Arts and Communication Department Foundations of Communication, COM 101 “Using Parallel Form” One of the hallmarks of effective professional communication is order. In the w orld of business, industry, and government, we w ant things to stack up neatly, to line up, to be accessible and easily searchable. We like patterns that help orient our brains to presentations of infor mation. That's w hy, for example, w hen someone is giving an oral presentation, w e really appreciate it w hen she starts by orienting us to the purpose and structure of her presentation, perhaps by providing and briefly review ing an outline (in the for m of a handout, or maybe on the overhead or data projector). Outlines display hierarchies of infor mation. Good outlines tell us both w hat's in a document and how its parts are related to each other. We can see at a glance w hat the main parts of the document are and w hat sub-categories fall into each major category. If the author or speaker reveals her princ iple of organization (as she should), w e can even see at a glance the order of importance of the topics, or the order of their difficulty, or their placement on a timeline, etc. These principles of organization are many, and the effective communicator chooses the ones best suit ed to her purpose and audience. How ever, no matter w hat overarching princ iples of order are chosen, there is w hat w e might call an "inter ior pr inciple of order" that applies to every kind of communication, at every level (from the "macro level," the main sections of d ocuments, to the "micro level," individual w ords w ithin sentences and phrases). This is w hat w e call "parallel for m." Let's first consider parallel form as it applies to headings. Parallel Form in Headings First of all, you should check to see that all th e headings you give to your documents are strong, descriptive noun phrases that correspond w ell to the subject matter of the sections they head. If your document uses too many one-w ord subheadings, consider expanding them. Headings are organizational signposts for the reader, and in most documents, they are too few and too short. How ever, even documents graced w ith lots of headings can be less accessible and helpful than they could be if parallel form were respected. Consider, for example, the follow ing ma jor heading and its thr ee sub-headings: Pr oblems w ith New Line of Laptops Small Keys Make Typing Aw kw ard Screen Brightness Insufficient Under sens itivity of Touchpad Each of these subheadings, cons idered separately, is absolutely fine. What's not fine is the lac k of parallel for m betw een them. Since each is simply an example of some "problem w ith the new line of laptops," w hy shouldn't each point be expressed in parallel for m, gr ammatically and stylistically? Why should the reader be subjected to even th e slightest demand to reorient his brain w hen looking at that list of problems ? Answ er: there is NO good reason. Let's see if you can edit those subheads to make them parallel in for m: Check your edit against these possible answ ers: Small Keys Make Typin g Aw kw ard Dim Screen Makes Eyes Tired Under sens itive Touchpad Makes Pointing/Clicking Difficult Maybe you don't w ant to use such long noun phrases for your headings --perhaps because there's not much info under each category, and the entire spread of main heading and subheadings is going to appear on one easily accessible page? Then how about this: Tiny Keys Dim Screen Under sens itive Touchpad There are many variations. Whatever form you choose, remember to make headings that are coordinate in sense para llel in structure. This helps readers recognize the relationship betw een bloc ks of infor mation. And it does w onders for your document's coherence. ”Bibliography Hirst, Dr. Russell. University of Tennessee. “Lesson 6: Using Parallel Form.” Professional Writing Style. 24 Jan. 2007 http://www.designsensory.com/pws/lesson6/index.html.
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