The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Writers Workshop: Writer Resources

Writing Tips: Parallelism

Parallel (grammatically equal) sentence elements regularly appear in lists or in a series, in compound structures, in comparisons using "than" or "as," and in contrasted elements. Words, phrases, clauses, and whole series of sentences within paragraphs can be parallel. For parallel structure, balance nouns with nouns, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, main clauses with main clauses, and so on; in one paper, whole paragraphs can parallel other paragraphs.

In much current business and technical writing, you'll see parallel lists of points indented and bulleted, while rhetoricians from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. used parallel constructions to create emotional suspense in their speeches. Writers depend upon parallelism because it (1) creates an easy information flow, (2) enables the writer to make points concisely, and (3) serves to emphasize points. Don't overuse parallelism, and make sure that you use parallel structures to match the form with the idea.