Your research papers or reports will be easier and more pleasant to read if there is an agreement in their grammatical structure. This principle is called parallelism, parallel structure, or parallel construction. Parallelism is vital in good academic writing, impacting both the grammar of sentences and the presentation of your ideas. It aims to strengthen, empower, highlight, persuade and influence the readers through your scientific work.1 Sometimes, it involves repeating the exact words, such as in the common phrases “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Other times, it echoes the construction or meaning of the pattern. You might want to think of parallelism as a rhetorical or stylistic device. Use them when you want to emphasize the meaning of sentences or express several ideas in a series of similar structures, as used by poets or orators.
Importance of parallelism in academic writing
- Parallel construction simplifies sentence structures so the writer can present their ideas and results efficiently and elegantly, leaving an impression on readers.
- Parallel construction emphasizes the relationship between two or more ideas. In academic writing, you often compare or contrast different methods or results. Parallelism can create a sense of rhythm and balance within such sentences.
- Parallel structure improves readability and clarity in your academic writing by providing a correct logical connection between and within sentences.
Types of parallelism
- Parallelism at Word Level: This includes cases of superlative degree comparison, past perfect tense, infinitive, and gerund. A simple way to check for parallelism in your writing is to ensure you have paired nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, and so on.
Faulty parallelism: He likes reading books and to watch television.
With correct gerund: He likes reading books and watching television.
With correct infinitive phrase: He likes to read books and watch television.
- Parallelism at Phrase Level: This includes parallel configurations in noun, verb, prepositional, adjectival, and adverbial phrases. Make verbs agree in tense and phrasing to avoid faulty parallelism in your writing.
Faulty parallelism: Her responsibilities included answering client calls, filing data, and to conduct visitor surveys.
Parallel: Her responsibilities included answering client calls, filing data, and conducting visitor surveys.
- Parallelism at Clause Level: Parallelism can be achieved at the clause level. A clause is a group of words that contains a verb. For example, a parallel structure that begins with clauses must continue with clauses of the same type (adverb, noun, and adjective clauses)
Faulty parallelism: The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep and to do some warm-up exercises before the game.
Parallel: The coach told the players that they should get a lot of sleep and that they should do some warm-up exercises before the game.
Faulty parallelisms are construction errors resulting from the writer not being consistent with parts of a sentence. The following four features can identify faulty parallelisms:2
- The two items in the parallelism are not of the same type.
- The two items in the parallelism are not of equal weight.
- The two items in the parallelism are not of equal length.
- There is no logical connection between the two items.
For example, consider the sentence,
The boy was elected school leader for his charisma and intelligence, but he was also known for his integrity.
Here, “charisma” and “integrity” refer to the character of the person, while “intelligence” refers to the capacity of the mind. So, it makes sense to rewrite the sentence as,
The boy was elected school leader for his charisma and integrity, but he was also known for his intelligence.
Tips to avoid false parallelism
The following tips can help you avoid false parallelism in your writing.
- Look for long sentences. Those are often the ones with many ideas that may not be written correctly. Mark those to re-read and check.
- If items in a sentence begin with an adverb or adjective, continue the list with the same part of speech.
- Not parallel adjectives: We are looking for an applicant who is organized and will arrive on time.
- Parallel adjectives: We are looking for an organized, punctual applicant.
- Keep all the elements in a list after a colon in the same form.
- Faulty parallelism: In your classroom, you will find the following: a table, a desk, and teaching.
- Parallel: In your classroom, you will find the following: a table, a desk, and a teacher.
While a lack of parallelism is not always strictly wrong, sentences with parallel structures are easier to read and give a sense of balance to the writing. Aim to maintain similar structures in your writing to avoid grammatical errors and to enhance your writing style.
- Parallelism Definition, LitCharts https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/parallelism.
- Al-Ameedi, R. T., & Mukhef, R. N. Aspects of political language and parallelism. Language. 8, 185-200 (2017). https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/234641269.pdf