Parallel Structure, or Why the Bullet is Your Friend



So you’re pursuing a job in finance.  Question: How much writing will you need to do?  Answer: More than you might think.

It is a given that you know something about finance, or you would never have been hired in the first place.  However, as you progess in your career you will find more of your time will be devoted to writing.  You will need to write reports, proposals, analyses, slide presentations, job descriptions, manuals, policies and performance appraisals.  Heck, if nothing else, you will need to write short, effective and easily comprehensible e-mails, which is a skill all by itself. Not to mention an effective resume and cover letter.  If you cannot write well, you are going to be in trouble.

One basic requirement for business writing is using parallel construction for lists.  This means using the same part of speech for each listed point.  So you would use words such as “implements”, “devises”, and “directs”, rather than “implements”, “devise” and “directing”. This is something that is so easy to fix, and it immediately improves the readability and professionalism of your writing.

Here’s part of an actual job description from one school district’s web site.

Example of Duties:  Some specific strategies may include Discrete trial, Schedules of reinforcement, acquisition and generalization, adapting classwork/homework, activities for daily living, intensive behavioral intervention plans specific to autistic profile, visual systems, Picture Exchange Systems (PECS), social skills, and other disability related IEP strategies.  Specific drills and related activities will be set by behavior consultant/specialist, in collaboration with classroom teacher.  Under direction of the teacher, the paraprofessional implements above systems to fit classroom schedule and routines, works collaboratively with wide range of school staff, parents, and private agencies for purpose of ensuring a safe and appropriate learning program and environment; maintains student files/records, cares for classroom and instructional equipment, etc.  Intensive record keeping needed to implement and monitor ABA program.  Does basic record keeping/clerical assistance for teacher when needed to implement student’s program.

Here it is rewritten as a list, using a parallel structure.

Example of Duties: Under the direction of the classroom teacher the autism paraprofessional

  • Implements instructional strategies aligned to each student’s individual educational plan (IEP).  Adapts classwork and homework, implements daily living activities, and implements specific intensive behavioral intervention plans.
  • Implements specific strategies such as discrete trial, schedules of reinforcement, acquisition and generalization, and visual systems (including picture exchange systems).
  • Organizes the classroom schedule to fit the above strategies.
  • Works collaboratively with school staff, parents, and private agencies to ensure a safe and appropriate learning program and environment.
  • Maintains student records.  Keeps detailed records needed to implement and monitor the ABA program, and provides basic clerical assistance to the teacher, as needed to implement student programs.
  • Cares for classroom and instructional equipment.
  • Performs other duties as assigned.

Even if you don’t want the final product to be a bulleted list, create one anyway.  After you make sure all the points are formatted correctly you can collapse them back to a “regular” paragraph again.

Your audience will thank you.

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