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Parallelism means that the items in a list have the same grammatical structure.
There's a good reason have parallelism: if you set up a structure for a list and stick to it, that makes it easy for your readers to stay on track. If you change your structure during the list, you usually throw them off.
What's an example of parallelism—and the lack of it?
Can you spot where this list loses parallelism?
That's pretty easy, isn't it? The first two items are simply phrases beginning with -ing verbs. The last item is a complete sentence. What's the fix? One way is to make them all phrases beginning with -ing verbs:
Another way is to make them all sentences:
Where do parallelism errors most often occur?
As you've already seen, one common place you'll find a lack of parallelism is in indented lists. Another is in unindented lists:
An easy way to check an unindented list for parallelism is to see what would happen if you indented it:
You can tell I was roughing it because I was:
Then see if the lead-in works with each item:
You can see the problem!
Another common place for parallelism problems is on visual aids—which often have a lot of lists. Is the list on this slide parallel?
No. The first item is a simple noun phrase, but the second and third items are clauses with verbs in them. Let's fix the slide by changing the first item:
Now the items all have the same structure!
So is this list parallel?
Yes—the items are all noun phrases. It's acceptable to have words like and that show how the bullets are related (in this case, an and relationship, not an or relationship). And it's acceptable to have other small modifiers before the first words—like the word usually before the noun phrase in this list:
Your next step
Now let's turn to commonly misused
2007 by Edward P. Bailey