Do you want your writing to be understood and remembered? Do you want it to be organized and powerful? What if I told you that one writing technique could help with all of those things?
Using parallel structure will improve the clarity, flow, and effectiveness of your writing. For example, in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar William Shakespeare employed parallel structure to add rhythm and aid clarity, making Marc Antony’s monologue lyrical and memorable:
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
In the first line, parallel structure also tells us that each group—friends, Romans, and countrymen—has equal importance. In the second line, the phrases, “to bury Caesar” and “to praise him,” are parallel, making the sentence easy to read with no need for the reader or listener to decipher the meaning. It is clear that the two ideas are equally significant. They are also opposite, and the parallel structure makes the opposition direct and powerful.
A favorite example of parallel structure is the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…
I have a dream that my four little children 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.
The repetition ties ideas together in the reader or listener’s mind. Each iteration builds on the one before it. King varies the third iteration just a bit and this, too, grabs the attention of readers and listeners.
Adapted from http://udleditions.cast.org/craft_ld_parallel.html
Once upon a time a professor handed out a writing assignment sheet. As she walked around the room, she reminded us to be consistent with verb tense, accurate with punctuation, and remember using parallel structure.* Wait . . . what?
Parallel structure is the repetition of a grammatical pattern within a sentence. Such patterns increase the clarity of your writing, making it easier for readers to follow, understand, and remember. Even if you have not heard of parallel structure, you probably have seen it in use. In the example below, two items in the list have the same form, but one is different. To make the structure parallel, revise the forms to match.
She likes biking, hiking, and to write short stories.
She likes biking, hiking, and writing short stories.
She likes to bike, hike, and write short stories.
When you connect two or more clauses or phrases with a coordinating conjunction (for, and, or, nor, but, yet, so) or with a correlative conjunction (not only…but also, either…or, neither…nor, if…then), use parallel structure.
We went to see a movie and walking around the lake.
We went to see a movie and walk around the lake.
We saw a movie and walked around the lake.
His cat likes not only scratching furniture but also to destroy blinds.
His cat likes not only to scratch furniture but also to destroy blinds.
His cat not only likes scratching furniture but also likes destroying blinds.
When comparing two ideas, use parallel structure.
I would rather buy groceries to cook at home than the cafeteria. (Who buys a cafeteria?)
I would rather buy groceries to cook at home than eat in the cafeteria.
I would rather receive financial aid than be working forty hours per week.
I would rather receive financial aid than work forty hours per week.
I would rather be receiving financial aid than working forty hours per week.
*Now go back to the top and re-write the second sentence using parallel structure. Write your answer in the comments on our Facebook page.
Modeled after http://www.evergreen.edu/writingcenter/handouts/grammar/parallel.pdf
What kind of image does this little bit of dialogue conjure in your mind? Did you imagine an old man from the 1920s with a cigar in his mouth or did you see some punk kid imitating a lousy movie about gangsters? Depending on dialogue, a character can be seen in many different ways for the reader. Sure, dialogue may seem a bit daunting at first, but it adds some depth to the characters or the paper that you’re writing. If you want to leave your teacher with a good impression of your writing skills, then consider throwing in some dialogue to spice up the reading.
Now even though some readers skim dialogue because it may not seem important, good dialogue can catch their attention and make them invest more time in the paper. If you spend all this time crafting dialogue that really drives home a character or statistic, then wouldn’t it be worth it for the reader to actually notice this section rather than dismiss it as something that takes up space on a page?
While some dialogue may not captivate your readers as much as it should, some good dialogue will add depth to your paper and leave your reader with the impression that you’re one of the best writers around. You will have mastered a seemingly simple practice to conjure images of grandeur or simplicity so vivid enough that they will still be thinking about these images weeks after the fact. How awesome would that be?
So the next time you’re about to skip writing out what someone has said in a paper, consider the impact that you’re taking away from the paper. What’s the feeling behind this topic? How can you convey to your reader the meaning of the passage through some speech? Does the dialogue you have make you think of a wisecracking old man with a grudge or a monotonous person with no personality? Which character would you be more interested in?