Writing for Business and Industry



Parallel Structure







Revise the problems in the parallel structure excercise.

Discussion of parallel structure

Parallel structure of coordinated elements in your writing is a powerful way to improve your readers' understanding of your message. Imagine if your young niece told you: 

"Doctor, lawyer, rich & famous--I can't decide which I want to be!" 

Is that last item "rich & famous" really one thing, or two? What kind of person is "rich & famous"? Does "rich & famous" refer back to being either a doctor or a lawyer? The problem with this sentence is that the items listed at the start are not all the same grammatical form; they are different parts of speech. "Doctor" and "lawyer" are nouns that describe potential careers, whereas "rich & famous" are adjectives that describe what your niece might be like in the future. If you really wanted to know what she was thinking, you'd have to ask her to clarify the meaning of "rich & famous." If she came back with 

"Doctor, lawyer, millionaire, or movie star--I can't decide which I want to be!" 

you could take comfort in the knowledge that she had mastered the art of parallel structure, even if her career goals were still pretty wide-ranging. 

Parallel structure can exist at any level in a document, ranging from single words within a sentence (as above) to organizational schemes within an entire document (as in a table of contents). As you work through the following exercises, you will move from single words and phrases at the sentence level to formatted lists and organizational schemes at the document level. For each item, first identify what elements are coordinated, and then revise the text to make it parallel. Remember: there is always more than one "correct" answer. 

Checking your own work

Review your assignments for this course and check if the headings and lists are parallel. (I'll be looking for that during grading.) Non-parallell structure tends to be a big problem with beginning technical writers. The quality of the parallel structure in the headings and lists on the process description and recommendation report will figure into the grade.


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