Parallelism Demystified: A User-Friendly Approach to Effective Writing

What is parallelism?

Key Takeaways:

  • Parallelism is a tool that brings order, clarity, and rhythm to your writing.
  • It involves aligning similar ideas, elements, or parts of speech in a balanced way.
  • Common parallelism pitfalls include mixing parts of speech and creating nonparallel lists.
  • Parallelism errors can be corrected by ensuring similar elements share the same grammatical structure.
  • Parallelism is a straightforward concept that can improve anyone’s writing.

The rules of parallelism in writing offer a trusty guide that brings order to your words. It’s about making sure similar ideas, elements, or parts of speech come together harmoniously. By embracing parallelism, you can craft sentences and lists that make your message clear.

Defining Parallelism

Parallelism is a rhetorical device that balances parts of a sentence or a series of sentences. The device is commonly used in various aspects of language, including sentence structure, lists, comparisons, and more.

To create parallelism, use similar grammatical structures or parts of speech for elements that perform the same function.

Why Parallelism in Writing Matters

Parallelism helps structure information in a way that makes it easier for readers or listeners to understand and process. Here’s why parallelism is important for comprehensible writing:

  • Consistency: Parallelism ensures you present similar ideas or elements consistently. 
  • Easy processing: When you write information with a parallel structure, the brain can process it more efficiently. 
  • Reduced ambiguity: Without parallelism, sentences may become ambiguous or confusing. 
  • Enhanced emphasis: Parallelism as a literary device can emphasize specific ideas or elements. 
  • Rhythm and balance: Parallelism adds rhythm and balance to sentences, enhancing a piece’s readability.

Examples of Parallelism

  • Nouns: She enjoys reading, swimming, and hiking.
  • Verbs: He runs, swims, and cycles.
  • Prepositional phrases: He is interested in sports, music, and art.
  • Infinitive phrases: Her goals are to learn, to grow, and to succeed.
  • Clauses: She is both intelligent and hardworking.

Common Parallelism Pitfalls

Common parallelism pitfalls include mixing different parts of speech, creating nonparallel lists, and misaligning elements used in comparisons. Mixing parts of speech within parallel structures can be confusing, such as “She enjoys skiing, reading books, and to take long walks,” where gerunds (“skiing” and “reading books”) clash with the infinitive (“to take long walks”). 

Nonparallel lists lack uniformity in grammatical structure, such as “He’s a great husband, a loving father, and cooks deliciously,” where “cooks deliciously” differs from the other elements. By changing the final characteristic to “an amazing chef,” the list becomes parallel.

Fixing Parallelism Errors

Identifying and correcting parallelism errors in your writing is crucial to avoid confusion or awkwardness in your writing. To address these issues, you should follow a systematic approach.

  • Carefully read your text, paying attention to sentences that might exhibit parallelism problems. Keep an eye out for conjunctions such as “and,” “or,” “but,” and “not only…but also,” which often signal the need for parallelism.
  • Focus on ensuring similar elements within the sentence or list share the same grammatical structure. Common areas to check include nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases. 
  • Proofread your text to confirm you’ve successfully addressed all parallelism errors.

Parallelism in Literature and Rhetoric

Parallelism plays a vital role in rhetoric and literature by enhancing the persuasive impact of speeches and the aesthetic quality of written works. It serves as a powerful rhetorical device, emphasizing key ideas through patterns in language. 

Emphasis and Repetition

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he famously used parallelism with the phrase, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The repetition of “I have a dream” also reinforces the central theme of the speech and makes it memorable.

Clarity and Symmetry

In Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the opening phrase follows a parallel structure to  creates a sense of balance and clarity — “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

Rhythmic Flow

In Winston Churchill’s famous wartime speech, he said, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…” The repetition of “we shall fight” emphasizes resolve and adds a powerful cadence to the speech.

Beyond Sentences: Parallelism in Ideas

Parallelism isn’t just for sentences; it’s a tool that keeps your writing in sync, whether you’re crafting a paragraph or weaving a whole narrative. It ensures your ideas and themes flow smoothly, making your message clear and engaging for readers. So, whether you’re writing an essay, a heartwarming story, or a lively article, parallelism ensures your piece provides a welcoming reading experience.

Common Misconceptions and Myths

Myth: Parallelism is about lists.

Reality: Parallelism can appear in comparisons, sentences, paragraphs, and even entire articles.

Myth: Parallelism is reserved for those fancy, formal pieces of writing.

Reality: It’s a versatile tool that can jazz up everyday conversations, emails, and social media posts. 

The Importance of Mastering Parallelism in Writing

Mastering parallelism can level up your writing and make it more digestible for readers. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s overly complex — parallelism is a straightforward concept that anyone can master. So, keep practicing, and let parallelism elevate your writing.

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Rick Leach, the Vice President of Content Operations at Crowd Content, is a seasoned professional in orchestrating large-scale content initiatives. At the helm of a dynamic team of content managers, QA specialists, and production assistants, he oversees the team’s production of high-quality content for businesses around the globe. Rick's expertise extends beyond operations management to providing strategic insights on scaling and producing outstanding content, making him a respected voice in the content creation industry.

Rick's journey in the content industry is preceded by more than five years as an Advertising Sales Manager at The Tampa Tribune, where he refined his skills in media sales and advertising. And his entrepreneurial spirit is evident in his successful 17-year venture as the proprietor of an e-commerce business.

On a personal front, Rick's life is as fulfilling as his professional endeavors. A proud U.S. Navy veteran, he enjoys a blissful family life, married with four children and a grandchild. Originally from New England but now residing on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Rick is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

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