Business Writing Essentials
Clarity

Parallels

Parallel construction is to prose what rhyme is to poetry. At least that's one way of looking at it. Readers are accustomed to having the benefits of parallel construction: fewer words, improved readability, and easier comprehension.

A common rule of grammar and rhetoric is that when we have groups of similar elements, we should coordinate them by assembling them side by side using a common grammatical structure.

Bob ate lunch, drinks coffee, and has fallen over.
[chaotic]

Bob ate lunch, drank coffee, and fell over.
[parallel]

Parallel construction should be used in a variety of ways: at the micro level (among clauses), at the intermediate level (among sentences), and at the macro level (among paragraphs and sections).

In the sentence below, two actions (predicates) are presented, but their structure is not parallel. It is much easier to read when they are similar in structure.

The committee recommends spending the surplus on an office party and that next year's budget for entertainment expenses be increased.

Here is a version with parallel structure:

The committee recommends spending the surplus on an office party and increasing next year's budget for entertainment expenses.

In the next example, the items in the list should be grammatically parallel. If one element of a list is a complete sentence and it reads okay, then all elements should be complete sentences using a similar form.

To request a change from last year's budget, follow proper procedures:

   • Standard form only

   • Include a detailed description.

   • Your request should be submitted by Tuesday.

We can make things parallel by rewriting bulleted items as imperatives.

To request a change from last year's budget, follow proper procedures:

   • Use only the standard form.

   • Include a detailed description.

   • Submit your request by Tuesday.

The final example, below, is not just for parallel structure, but also for parallel thought.

The auditor discovered mistakes in accounts receivable, found receipts that had not been recorded, corrected several ledger entries, and all this time our accountant could not be found.

One of the elements in the sentence is a thought that is not similar to the thoughts in the other elements. It is best to break it out as a new sentence.

The auditor discovered mistakes in accounts receivable, found receipts that had not been recorded, and corrected several ledger entries. All this time our accountant could not be found.

Lesson: Parallels
Module: Clarity
Course: Business Writing Essentials