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.

Eliminating Wordiness

Writing concisely by eliminating wordiness is important to make your writing better, more engaging and effective. This slide presentation helps you to recognise the different types of wordiness and discusses ways in which wordy passages can be revised.

Eliminating wordiness is all about being concise, so only using the words necessary to make your point in a clear way. In other words, this means that if you can express an idea in five words, don’t use 10.

When revising a text, this means that all unnecessary words should be deleted until you are left with a clear, effective piece of writing that is not longer than it needs to be.

These nonessential words can be divided into four categories.

  • Deadwood
  • Utility words
  • Interlocution
  • Wordy phrases

1.

So, let’s start with number 1, which is deadwood. The term deadwood refers to words and phrases that take up space but add no meaning, like this example:

There were a few experiences that supported her decision to change her life.

Here There were, and that really serve no purpose and a sentence without these words would have exactly the same meaning. A revised version of this sentence would look like this:

A few experiences supported her decision to change her life.

Another common example of deadwood is starting sentences with phrases like I think, I feel, or I believe, like in the sentence:

I believe that not enough money is spent on education.

Here I believe is not necessary to make your point because since you are the person writing the sentence, it is obvious that – unless stated otherwise – you are the person who has that belief and just writing Not enough money is spent on education, makes exactly the same point.

2.

The second way to eliminate wordiness, is to get rid of utility words. Utility words are words that just act like fillers and, just like deadwood, do not contribute to the meaning of a sentence. They include:

  • Words with imprecise meanings (Like factor, or aspect, etc.)
  • Meaningless adjectives (Like good, bad, important, and so on), and
  • Meaningless adverbs (For instance basically, or quite)

Now let’s look at look at the following sentence:

The financial aspect played a role in the decision.

The word aspect here adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence. Aspect means part or feature of something, so what the sentence says is something along the lines of the financial part of something. What the writer is really trying to say, however, is that money, or finances played a role, so that is what the sentence should be.

Finances played a role in the decision.

This much clearer.

The following is an example of how meaningless adjectives are used in a way that does not add meaning to a sentence.

This deal will offer many good opportunities to make a profit.

The word good can be left out here because opportunities are always good. The word opportunity itself means favourable situation, so, again, good does not add meaning to the sentence and it should therefore be left out. So, the sentence should just be:

This deal will offer many opportunities to make a profit.

Adverbs can also be used in a way that does not add meaning. Like here:

Going along with the proposal was basically out of the question.

The word basically is used to describe the essence of something to emphasize what the most important idea is in order to clarify a point. If something is out of the question, however, it is already clear that something is not going to happen. Basically does not need to add to that, and can therefore be left out. The revised sentence would then be:

Going along with the proposal was out of the question.

3.

A third way to eliminate wordiness is to avoid circumlocution. Circumlocution means using roundabout way of saying something. Like here:

It is not unlikely that the virus will spread.

The phrase It is not unlikely is an example of circumlocution because the same meaning can be expressed by saying:

The virus will probably spread.

Here is another example using a roundabout way of saying something:

The suspect was in Paris during the same time that the crime was committed.

However, the writer could have said the same thing like this:

The suspect was in Paris when the crime was committed.

4.

Avoiding wordy phrases is another way of making your writing more concise, or less wordy. Similar to circumlocution, using wordy phrases is also about using more words than necessary to express a certain idea, but here the difference is that wordy phrases are often standardized expressions that many people feel sound formal or academic. Because of that, they are considered good style. However, they are not terribly effective. Examples are using:

Due to the fact that, which means the same as because. Or using Have the ability to, which could be written as Be able to, or choosing the expression At the present time when Now would do

Now, as a final example of using wordy phrases, let’s look at a one and see how it could be revised.

At the present time my client does not have the ability to comment due to the fact that he is part of an ongoing investigation.

This sentence could be rewritten like this:

My client cannot comment because he is part of an ongoing investigation.

So, to conclude. To make your writing less wordy, make sure you get rid of deadwood, avoid utility words and circumlocution, and check your work for wordy phrases.