Using Parallelism in Writing

A tutorial on how to use parallelism in you writing effectively and how to revise faulty parallelism

Using parallelism means using matching words, phrases or clauses or sentences to express equivalent ideas. The reason for using parallelism is that it adds unity, balance and force to your writing.  On the contrary, when your writing lacks parallel structures, your writing style may seem awkward, which, in turn, could obscure the meaning of what you are trying to express. In other words, lack of parallelism could create confusion.

Using Parallelism Effectively

Parallelism emphasizes the relationships between equivalent ideas because it highlights the correspondence between:

  • Items in a series
  • Paired items
  • Elements in lists and outlines

Items in a series

When presenting items in a series, you should present them in parallel form. Like in these examples:

Baby food consumption, toy production, and school construction are likely to decline as the population of the Netherlands grows older.

Three factors influenced his decision to seek new employment: his desire to relocate, his need for greater responsibility, and his dissatisfaction with his current job.

Paired Items

Paired points or ideas should also be presented in parallel form because it emphasizes their equivalence and connects the two ideas. Here are two examples:

Roosevelt represented the United States, and Churchill represented Great Britain.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Items linked by correlating conjunctions (such as not only/but also, both/and, either/or and neither/nor should also be parallel.

The design team paid close attention not only to color, but also to texture.

Thirdly, parallelism highlights the contrast between paired elements linked by than or as, like here:

Success is as much a matter of hard work as a matter of luck.

Items in a list

You should also  present Items in a list in parallel form, like in this example:

The Irish potato famine had four major causes:

  1. The establishment of the landlord-tenant system
  2. The failure of the potato crop
  3. The inadequate financial support by England
  4. The passage of the corn laws

Revising Faulty parallelism

Faulty parallelism occurs when equivalent ideas in a sentence are not presented in parallel form, like in for instance:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and their healthcare facilities are inadequate.

After revision, this sentence could look like this:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and sufficient health-care facilities to serve them.

Faulty parallelism when pairing items can be revised by making sure you use matching elements. This means that you have to pair nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and phrases and clauses with similarly constructed phrases and clauses.

The following is a sentence with paired elements that should be revised:

Faulty:

Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifters, and jogging.

Revised:

Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifting, andjogging.

Sentences are often clearer and more emphatic if you repeat certain keywords (articles, prepositions, and the to in infinitives, for example) in each element of a pair or series, as illustrated here:

Faulty:

Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, increasing the speed of production, and improving efficiency.

Revised:

Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, by increasing the speed of production, and by improving efficiency.

When repeating relative pronouns, the relative pronoun constructions who(m) … and who(m), and which … and which are always paired and always introduce parallel clauses. When you revise, check to be sure a relative pronoun introduces each clause. To illustrate, let’s look at this example:

Faulty:

The Thing, directed by Howard Hawks, and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.

Revised:

The Thing, which was directed by Howard Hawks and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.

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