Advanced Business Writing
Clarity and Flow

Good Parallelism

In long sentences, it is easy to assemble parallel constructions that are proper but still difficult to follow. Several examples are:

 • insufficiently marked parallels

 • inappropriately sequenced parallels

Consider a slightly long sentence of 41 words:

They were keen to offer a few opinions about the direction this company is taking under its new leadership in terms of the changing incentives for those employees who volunteer to work in entrepreneurial teams and lack of guidance for supervisors.

Did you find it easy to identify the two things placed in parallel? If you did, be honest: couldn't they be made even easier to identify? (The correct answer here is, Yes.)

For this sentence, the addition of a single word provides a consistent marker for the beginning of the two phrases placed in parallel:

They were keen to offer a few opinions about the direction this company is taking under its new leadership in terms of the changing incentives for those employees who volunteer to work in entrepreneurial teams and the lack of guidance for supervisors.

Consider the starting point for our sentence:

They were keen to X in terms of Y and Z.

Adding consistent markers can be done in different ways. When the phrases Y and Z are short, we can usually use the sentence as is, with no markers. But when the phrases are of medium length, it could help to use:

They were keen to X in terms of the Y and the Z.

And when the phrases are very long, it can be appropriate to use:

They were keen to X in terms of the Y and in terms of the Z.

Essentially, longer markers help identify longer phrases.

Now say to yourself, "Okay, I've written the sentence. I've edited it to make it better. And it was error free to start with. Can't I just stop there? The reader should be able to understand it well enough now, right?"

The problem with what you said to yourself, whether you meant it or not, is in the two words: "well enough". If you want to be a stellar communicator with the written word among your peers and superiors in the workplace, you must remove that set of words from your thinking and your vocabulary. You can always do better, and you should always strive to do so. The inevitable result will be ecstatic readers and a golden career. Trust me.

Getting back to your 42-word sentence, here is what you should do: arrange parallel phrases by length, from shortest to longest.

They were keen to offer a few opinions about the direction this company is taking under its new leadership in terms of the lack of guidance for supervisors and the changing incentives for those employees who volunteer to work in entrepreneurial teams.

Now that's clear, right? A reader would have to be half asleep to find it difficult to follow, right? (The correct answers, as you might guess, are Yes and Yes.)

Lesson: Good Parallelism
Module: Clarity and Flow
Course: Advanced Business Writing