What Is Parallelism and Why Is It Important?

Kathy Edens
Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist
Published Jan 21, 2019

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Parallelism is more than a literary device authors use to pack a punch in their sentences. It’s also a grammatical element that copywriters use to help your target audience understand the impact of your assertions.

How, you ask? Let’s look at a few examples. But first, a definition.

Contents:

  1. What is Parallelism?
  2. Examples of Parallelism
  3. The Nitty Gritty of Parallelism
  4. Parallelism in Content
  5. How to Spot Faulty Parallelism
  6. Use ProWritingAid for Peace of Mind

What is Parallelism?

Per literarydevices.net, parallelism is "the use of components in a sentence that are grammatically the same or similar in their construction, sound, meaning, or meter."

Since that might not be clear enough, let’s go over what parallelism looks like in practice.

Examples of Parallelism

In essence, parallelism is about using repetition and rhythm to emphasize your ideas. It makes your sentences flow and roll off your readers’ tongues easily and concisely. Look at the following sentences.

  • Whether at home, at work, or at the shelter, Amy put others’ best interests first.
  • My college professor encouraged me to pay attention to parallelism and to identify other literary devices in literature.
  • Neither Mark’s mother nor his sisters ever noticed he was extremely bashful around women, frightfully tongue-tied when speaking, and painfully inept at small talk.

The Nitty Gritty of Parallelism

You can see from the above examples that parallelism uses the same sentence constructs like nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. for their rhythm and repetition. One of the most famous uses of this device in literature is the opening sentence of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities.

  • "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

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Parallelism in Content

Beyond literature, however, parallelism makes your content and copy resonate with readers. For examples of what not to do, consider how the following examples jar your comprehension.

  • Consumers must learn to spot inconsistencies in product descriptions, to understand the differences in specs, and should know when to avoid certain e-commerce sites at all costs.
  • Marketers are masters at creating campaigns that result in conversions, investing in avenues that offer the biggest return on investment, and to be ready for winning marketing strategies.
  • A CIO’s everyday schedule includes staying abreast of new technology, determining how new technology can help their company achieve goals, and that questions would be asked by Board members.

Whoa, some of these are incredibly jarring. Can you spot why?

In the first example, the sentence uses prepositional phrases starting with "to" and a verb, except for the last phrase which throws the reader off rhythm. The second sentence is very similar because it uses "-ing" verbs in the series, only to finish with a "be" verb different from the rest.

Finally, the last sentence uses "-ing" verbs to project action but finishes up with a passive verb, which is like fingernails on the proverbial chalkboard.

How to Spot Faulty Parallelism

Faulty parallelism is when you don’t use the repetition and rhythm of similar sentence constructs, like in the previous examples that jarred the senses. So how do you spot it in your work?

First, pay particular attention to conjunctions. Search your content for "and," "but," "or," "for," "nor," "so," and "yet." Make sure you construct the elements used in each of your sentence’s phrases or clauses that follow conjunctions in same way. For example, use: verb + adjective + object or some other structure.

Always check bulleted lists to make sure they follow the same construction. If the first item in your list starts with an "-ing" verb, all the other bullet points should start this way, too. For example:

  • Checking each sentence for conjunctions.
  • Making sure bullet points start with an "-ing" verb.
  • Paying attention to words, phrases, or clauses in a series.

Use ProWritingAid for Peace of Mind

ProWritingAid catches inconsistencies in your wording, including use of passive voice and other sentence constructs that deflect readers from your meaning. In fact, the more you use ProWritingAid to self-edit, the better you’ll become at identifying ways to improve your writing.

Parallelism is an important device that authors can use to grab a reader’s attention and hammer home a point. It makes articles and white papers easier to read. You can use parallelism to keep readers engaged with your prose or to help your target audience understand your content without fumbling to figure out what your sentences mean.

Who doesn’t remember Martin Luther King, Jr. exclaiming, "I have a dream…" decades ago? That’s parallelism at its finest.

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Kathy Edens
Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books: The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

I would be helpful to see the correct versions of the bad examples, and an explanation of how 'I have a dream' is a parallelism by itself. I can see it in context: I have a dream that my four little chi1dren will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream ... I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will he able to join hands with little white boy's and white girls as sisters and brothers..

By onnojan on 22 January 2019, 11:13 PM

Hi there, yes, that makes sense. Thanks for commenting!

By kylemassa on 23 January 2019, 01:21 PM