Parallel Structure: Organizing Sentences and Essays

Good writing is clear. It’s focused, it offers insight into a meaningful topic, and it has strong organization. But, how do you organize an essay? One of the most effective tools you can use to ensure organization is to use parallel structure. This isn’t just one single tool, though. We can apply to a wide variety of writing situations, from single sentences to entire essays.

parallel structure, girl writing homework

What is Parallel Structure?

Parallel structure is a style of writing in which the author uses clauses, phrases, and sentences to show that ideas are of similar levels of importance. Even more, it’s actually quite common and can be found across all levels of writing, from the most advanced texts to the simplest of conversations. We can use parallel structures on a variety of levels.

Within a Sentence

We can create parallel structure within a sentence by using grammatically similar or identical phrases to connect the ideas. For example, let’s look at this sentence:

It’s important to organize the information, create an interesting opening, and use transitions between ideas.

When we read this sentence, we can see three elements of the list, all composed of a similar grammatical structure. To check for parallel structure within a sentence like this, we chop it up to see if each element of the list works with the beginning of the sentence.

It’s important to organize the information.

It’s important to create an interesting opening.

It’s important to use transitions between ideas.

If there is an element of the list that doesn’t work with the opening of the sentence, that’s your clue that you need to revise.

For example, if we wrote something like, “Elizabeth likes to read, practice photography, and riding her bicycle,” it might sound okay at first. But, when we look more closely, we see that there is an error with the last phrase. Let’s connect it to the opening of the sentence:

Elizabeth likes to riding her bicycle.

That’s definitely not good grammar, so we’d need to revise.

Elizabeth likes to ride her bicycle. 

We can tuck that back into our list to improve the parallel structure: “Elizabeth likes to read, practice photography, and ride her bicycle.” By using parallel structure, we improve the flow and grammar of the overall sentence.


Within an Essay

Let’s imagine that we’re writing a research essay. First, we’ve already got an awesome introduction that really hooks our reader, and we’ve created the following thesis statement based on our outline:

China’s history offers a unique look into a strict military, breathtaking artistic expression, and dynasties that ruled all of Asia.

When we look at this thesis, we can see the author has three main points: the military, art, and the various dynasties that ruled. The author did a great job using a parallel structure in this sentence. But, they need to maintain this structure in the organization of their essay. That is, a thesis introduces the main topics in the order they will appear in the essay. Just from this sentence, we can see that the first body paragraph of the essay will discuss the military. To expand on that, the author will write about art second, and the last main topic will be the dynasties.

You can apply this to your own essays, as well! It’s simply a matter of lining things up. All of a sudden, your organization is perfect! From there, it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks.