Using Parallel Form - DOC by mvr5


									                                           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.


Hirst, Dr. Russell. University of Tennessee. “Lesson 6: Using Parallel Form.” Professional Writing Style. 24 Jan. 2007

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