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Parallel Construction

Sentences and lists are awkward when they contain a series of items with inconsistent grammatical structure. But as your reader scans through a series of items with parallel grammatical structure, the relationships between different items of information become clear. Here’s an example:

Which of the two sentences below is easier to follow?

At the February meeting we will hold a discussion of the new health plan, whether to revise the procedures manual, and then a draft will be developed of the early retirement policy.

At the February meeting, we will discuss the new health plan, decide whether to revise the procedures manual, and draft an early retirement policy.

In the second example, the parallel verb tenses saved space and helped us grasp the ideas immediately. To help your writing flow smoothly and make sense, use the same format for items you present in a series.

Pop Quiz
Rewrite these sentences using parallel construction.

1. Rita’s responsibilities include sorting the mail, answering the phone, and to run errands.

2. We have asked managers to reduce travel budgets by 20 percent and that expense reports should be submitted weekly.

Here are the answers with the parallel words underlined:

1. Rita’s responsibilities include sorting the mail, answering the phone, and running errands.

2. We have asked managers to reduce travel budgets by 20 percent and to submit expense reports weekly.

The same approach applies to lists, which are much easier to read when the grammar is parallel.

Incorrect Example
The agenda for the March meeting includes the following goals:

  • Discussion of the new health plan
  • Whether to revise the procedures manual
  • The early-retirement policy will change

Correct Example
The agenda for the March meeting includes the following goals:

  • Discussing the new health plan
  • Deciding whether to revise the procedures manual
  • Revising the early-retirement policy

Parallel construction can help you organize your thoughts, make your writing flow smoothly, and make your meaning clear immediately. (How is this sentence as an example of parallel construction?)

This tip was contributed by WriteItWell.com, your editing partner.

Posted on Tuesday, July 6, 2010, at 3:01 pm


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