Science

Parallel Structures in Writing

There are many stylistic tricks in writing, but one of most overlooked is a parallel structure (or parallelism). Parallel structures are based on the idea that between word, phrases, and clauses there should be logical consistency. This is easiest to explain with examples of parallel and non-parallel structures side by side.

Words and Phrase Agreement

Here is an example of a sentence with the non-parallel structure:

At the camp boys swam, ate sandwiches, and were playing baseball

This sentence is non-parallel because while the first two items on the list are in past tense, the last one is in past progressive tense. A parallel structured version of the sentence would go:

At the camp boys swam, ate sandwiches, and played baseball

This type of style error is known as ‘mixing forms’ and doesn’t always have to do with verb agreement. It can be found whenever two items on a list share a part of grammar, but the third does not. Take the following non-parallel sentence:

She tiptoed, quickly, quietly, and like she was scared

Here, the first two items listed are adverbs, and the last is a phrase. A parallel structured version of the sentence would go:

She tiptoed, quickly, quietly, and anxiously

 

The same rule applies to clauses. Here’s an example of a non-parallel sentence with clauses:

He likes to go to the movies, to go to sporting events, and attending some concerts

The parallel structured version of this sentence would be:

He loves to go to the movies, to go to sporting events, and to go to concerts

 

Finally, parallel structures apply after using a colon. Here’s an example of a sentence using a colon with the non-parallel arrangement:

My website can be used to find: funny pictures, cool games, searching for new music

It’s a simple fix to give this example parallel structure and make all the terms match:

My website can be used to find: funny pictures, cool games, new music

 

Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are just a complicated way of describing the commonly used pairs of conjunctions connecting two similar items. Either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also; all of those are correlative conjunctions.

Here are the main rules to follow when using them:

  1. The tense of the verb always follows the second clause

Example:

Every night either the roaring wind or the pelting raindrops wake John  OR

Every night either the pelting raindrops or the roaring wind wakes John

  1. Pronouns also follow the second clause

Example:

Neither Jimmy nor the brothers showed their excitement about meeting their favorite celebrity OR

Neither the brothers nor Jimmy showed their excitement about meeting his favorite celebrity

  1. Make sure to use parallel structures between clauses

Example:

Not only did Sophie bake a cake for her friend, but she also made one for her friend’s twin sister

This sentence was written with two main clauses, but it could also be written with two prepositional phrases or two nouns.

Prepositional phrases:

Sophie bake a cake not only for her friend but also for her friend’s twin sister

Nouns:

Sophie bake a cake for not only her friend but also her friend’s twin sister

 

It can be a complicated pattern to spot until it’s pointed out but changing to parallel forms is a very subtle way to improve your writing significantly. Just make sure to check carefully for agreement whenever you have lists of similar items and watch for agreement in your correlative conjunctions, and you’ll be set.

 

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