Parallel writing features repeating patterns that add rhythm, balance, and flow to sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Because of its effect on clarity and coherence, parallelism might be the most important skill a writer — of any stripe — can master. A good understanding of parallelism can help improve grammar, too.
Parallel patterns help writers group ideas with equal importance, and they help readers see connections between those ideas. The simplest patterns are made of words, such as items in a series or consistent use of similar adjectives and adverbs. Phrases, clauses, and even whole sentences can be arranged in repeating, parallel patterns.
Any part of a sentence can be repeated, or paralleled, any number of times. A little parallelism goes a long way. Try not to overdo it!
Items in a series (the simplest form of parallelism of all):
Not Parallel: Lars Peterson Editorial Services writes and edits for marketing, brochures, books and user manuals, and online.
Parallel: Lars Peterson Editorial Services provides writing and editing services to marketers, publishers, and web developers.
or (making the to part of the pattern, in addition to sticking with the plural nouns in the example above, to highlight types of clients),
Lars Peterson Editorial Services provides writing and editing services to marketers, to publishers, and to web developers.
or (choosing plural nouns that focus on projects rather than clients),
Lars Peterson Editorial Services provides writing and editing services for brochures and catalogs, tipsheets and book jackets, and blogs and websites.
Phrases (mixing infinitive phrases (to read, to build) and gerunds (reading, building) is a common sort of faulty parallelism):
Not Parallel: When he is not writing and editing for a client, or helping young writers improve their skills, or trying to find more clients, the freelancer likes to read (maybe something John McPhee wrote), woodworking, or is caving in to vice and playing computer games.
Parallel: When he is not writing and editing for a client, or helping young writers improve their skills, or trying to find more clients, the freelancer likes reading (maybe something John McPhee wrote), woodworking, and, after surrendering to whim, playing computer games.
Clauses (these can get really convoluted and old or stuffy in tone. Effective occasionally).
Here’s a workshop example that’s neither old nor stuffy (a bunch of independent clauses strung together):
The lions chose their prey from among the wildebeest herd and separated into hunting pairs. One pair slipped through the grass downwind of the wildebeest, and the other pair crept through the grass upwind of the wildebeest, and soon the wildebeest caught the scent of the hunting pair crouched in the grass upwind and turned downwind and took to their hooves and bent the grass and raised the dust, and they ran straight into the pair of hunting lions hiding in the grass downwind, and that pair was joined immediately by the other pair chasing from upwind, and all together the lions pounced on the neck of the juvenile wildebeest they had decided upon before separating into pairs.
And here’s another workshop example that is kind of old and stuffy, this time using dependent clauses (all those clauses beginning with “who”):
Lions, who hunt in the mornings and evenings, who sleep through the mid-day heat, who fear few and frighten most, who challenge the elephant and yield to the hyena, who remain nevertheless the unrivaled masters of the savannah, capture our imaginations like no other animal, because they, like no other animal, capture how we imagine ourselves: clever, fierce, and unrivaled.