Monday, August 23, 2010

Grammatical parallelism, parallel structure, parallel construction, parallel form (4)

Grammatical parallelism is also called parallel structure, parallel construction, and parallel form. It is the use of equivalent syntax to array equivalent ideas. Parallelism makes writing easier to read; faulty parallelism makes writing harder to read.

An example of faulty parallelism

Consider the following list of “13 Horrific Social Media Practices.”

1. #Placing a #hashtag #before #each #word of a #tweet

2. Ensuring that every tweet includes an @reply with your name. Nope that doesn’t increase your Klout…

3. Arbitrary people @replying you in their tweets trying to sell you something…très annoying

4. Complaining about your job , bosses, relationships and life in general day after day after day…Get over yourself

5. Providing sage quotes as your status updates daily…yes you’re clever, very clever

6. Faceless, nameless entities commenting on blog posts with the line “Great Post/ Great Content…I found it useful” and leading back to some dodgy link. Thank goodness for askimet and by the way we know you are a bot.

7. The demise of Google Wave…I’m probably one of the few who will miss you.

8. Posting unflattering pics of yourselves and receiving “Wow…great photo…you look lovely” comments from friends. Note to you, they aren’t really your friends.

9. Friends tagging you in unflattering photos. Are these really your friends?

10. Not having the dsilike button on Facebook.

11. Having the dislike button but knowing I’ll never use it because “my friends” may be offended. I’m human after all , can’t live with… can’t live without

12. Fanpages that don’t allow fan comments by default.

13. Forums which insist that you must add their logo before you can participate /get an invite / use them.

Analysis of the example

This list rates a high 65.9 on the Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) test, because the sentences are short (average 12.5 words) and the words are short (average 4.6 characters). However, the list is not easy to read; the major reason* is faulty parallelism. The list contains four different grammatical structures: gerund; subject and participial phrase; subject and relative clause; subject and no phrase, clause or verb:

01 placing a hashtag (gerund)
02 ensuring that (gerund)
03 people replying (subject and participial phrase)
04 complaining about (gerund)
05 providing quotes (gerund)
06 entities commenting (subject and participial phrase)
07 demise of Google Wave (subject and no phrase, clause or verb)
08 posting pics (gerund)
09 friends tagging (subject and participial phrase)
10 having the button (gerund)
11 having the button (gerund)
12 fanpages that allow (subject and relative clause)
13 forums which insist (subject and relative clause)

Normally, readers expect to encounter only one structure throughout a list. So, each time the structure changes, readers are thrown off balance; they have to decode a new structure. The effect is cumulative; readers’ frustration increases with each change.

The Takeaway: Check your parallel constructions to make sure they really are parallel. This is one of the quickest fixes you can make during a copy-edit. Parallelism will make your copy easier to read. Your readers will notice and appreciate it.

*There are other types of errors in this list, but we don’t have the space to discuss them here.

See disclaimer.

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