Friday, August 30, 2013

Using Bullet Points Effectively, Part 4:Keeping Lists Consistent

Parallel structure is the grouping of like grammatical or conceptual terms in the same word or phrasing pattern. Parallel structure shows up in all sorts of situations, including lists. Using parallel structure achieves clarity and conciseness. 

In this first example, the nonparallel list is typical of first draft thinking:

You possess three qualities:

  • You work hard
  • A loyal attitude
  • Your donations to charitable organization
The problem with the list is that none of the items is a quality, as the lead-in sentence requires. A good, parallel rewrite appears in this second draft:

You possess three great qualities:

  • diligence
  • loyalty
  • generosity
In this next example, the list requires beginning each point with an action, but the writer fails to create this consistency:

The user must perform these safety measures: 

  1. Wear personal protective equipment.
  2. safety-rated tools.
  3. The circuit breaker must be turned off.
  4. Grounding the wires is imperative.
This second draft uses parallel structure to clearly indicate the required tasks:

The user must perform these safety measures:
  1. Wear personal protective equipment.
  2. Use safety-rated tools.
  3. Turn off the circuit breaker.
  4. Ground the wires.