You know those emails that are sluggish to read, or feel like a make-work project? One of the most common reasons for this is the writer mixed grammatical forms in every sentence. The writing felt choppy, uncoordinated, and unprofessional. This is because the author wasn’t employing parallel construction.
Parallel construction means expressing parallel thoughts in the same grammatical form. Parallelism gives your writing smoothness and consistency. When parallelism isn’t used properly, we call it a ‘false series.’ Does the sentence below sound ‘off’ to you?
The Executive Director delivered her presentation, thanked the team and was seen exiting the building.
Of course it did, because it’s a false series.
Here’s a quick grammar review:
In the first part of the sentence the subject is referring to something being done to an object. The second sentence follows the same structure, but the third flips the subject and object. The Executive Director is the subject in the first two sentences, but becomes the object being referred to in the third. Don’t worry if you are seeing subjects and objects everywhere now. What’s important is how you apply parallel construction.
A simple method to give your sentences parallelism is to break your sentence down to its simplest form and then re-build it.
In this case, the broken down sentence would read: “she did this, she did this, someone saw her do this.”
When reading a sentence in its simplest form, it’s easier to revise. This is how the structure should look: “she did this, she did this, she did this.”
When we use this structure and fill in the sentence, we get a sentence formed with proper parallelism:
The Executive Director delivered her presentation, thanked the team and left the building.
This example of parallelism deals with the subject/object relationship, but a false series can come in many forms. For a deeper look into formatting parallel thoughts properly, read this guide.
Parallel construction is your best way to give your readers flow in your writing. And that means they will keep reading.
Do you have other tips on enhancing your email writing? Let us know in the comments.
Diana is President of The Soft Skills Group Inc. She is a senior training & development professional with 20 years of experience in delivery, design & consulting with Fortune 500 companies, Universities & Colleges in Canada, the USA, Mexico and Europe.