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Are your bullet points parallel?

Posted by Wendy Wood on 22nd October , 2020 in Grammar
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This morning I was reading a blog post my boss emailed me and I thought, “I get to tell my boss what to do every single day”. That’s not my point of this Super Grammar, but I think it’s pretty cool that by making corrections and improving the boss’s writing, I get to “tell him what to do”. But, let’s get to the point.

What I noticed (and corrected) in the post my boss wrote was that his bullet points were not in parallel structure.

Now, I can hear you saying, “OK, Wendy, you’ve lost me. Stop speaking jargon”. But parallel structure simply means making things the same, or parallel. Say, for instance, you want to list activities you can do outside, so you write:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Take a hike
  • Run

You can see all of these are, in fact, activities you can participate in while outdoors. But did you notice your brain’s hesitation when you read the fourth and fifth items? It had to stop to figure things out because these items weren’t like the others. The first three words in the list are gerunds (the -ing form of a verb being used as a noun). The fourth item is an imperative sentence (a sentence that gives a command, demand or instructions directly to the audience). And the last item is a verb (or it could be a noun, depending on your perspective. I prefer to look at it while sitting in my chair, so for me it’s “a run”).

For these items to be parallel in structure, you can make them all gerunds, like this:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Running

Or, you could use imperative sentences:

  • Go for a walk
  • Ride a bike
  • Go for a swim
  • Take a hike
  • Go for a run

Or, you could use verbs:

  • Walk
  • Bike
  • Swim
  • Hike
  • Run

These are simple lists and you’re probably thinking parallel structure of the bullet points really doesn’t seem to matter. But trust me; when the bullet points are more complex, parallel structure will improve your writing and your readers will notice.

Wendy Wood

(Dan’s Note: Does anyone else pay their staff to rip into them in public like this? No? Just me?)



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