In many ways, a sentence serves as a storage structure for information. A well-written sentence keeps information neatly organized so the reader can find it and use it with ease. Parallel structures are one of the most important tools for organizing information within a sentence. By learning how to manage these structures and how to spot a faulty one, you can make your writing tighter and organize your sentences better.
We most frequently use parallel structures to convey different pieces of information which share a common theme. For example, I might say that my morning chores include feeding the animals, gathering the eggs, watering the garden, and getting the mail. Each of the phrases in bold conveys a piece of information that falls under the umbrella of “morning tasks.” Accordingly, each phrase is structured almost identically.
It’s easy to slip up and write a faulty or a clumsy parallelism. If I were to say that my morning chores include feeding the animals, gathering the eggs, watering the garden, and a trip to the mailbox, then I would be using a faulty parallelism in the italicized phrase. Here, “a trip to the mailbox” is a nominal phrase which springs up like a weed in an orderly patch of verb phrases. This faulty parallelism makes the sentence awkward, jars the reader, and detracts from the flow of the prose.
Whenever you see a group of phrases or clauses which all fall under the ‘umbrella’ of another clause, you should make sure that each member is structured similarly. Well-crafted parallelisms are a key feature of clear, tight writing which leads the reader through all of your important information. They make your writing “user-friendly,” and they add elegance as well as clarity to your prose.