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Parallel Bars

Consistency and coherence are hallmarks of good writing. This principle applies especially when you’re writing lists. The series of items that constitute a list should have a parallel structure.

Let’s say someone charged with the task of preparing a business report drafts the following passage…

The goals of the new product launch are:

  1. To increase revenues by $1 million annually.
  2. Expanding the company’s market share.
  3. Let’s ensure that brand recognition doubles among our target audience.

The above list has what grammarians call “faulty parallelism.” Each item begins with a different part of speech. But the problem can be fixed easily. For example, this list could be recast by structuring all the items in the infinitive…

The goals of the new product launch are:

  1. To increase revenues by $1 million annually.
  2. To expand the company’s market share.
  3. To double brand recognition among our target audience.

“The Grammar Curmudgeon” website ( has an excellent explanation of why parallelism is important:

“Parallel construction prevents awkwardness and promotes clarity. Balanced or symmetrical elements also tend to be more concise. Writers who face the challenge of stating several ideas… can often achieve this goal with remarkable clarity if they arrange these ideas in a balanced series. … The result is not only easier for the reader to follow, but it is also more pleasing aesthetically.”

Achieving these objectives may require some thought and effort. But that investment is rewarded by the result: powerful, effective, persuasive communication.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.