I’ve been studying writing for years.
But somehow I missed how powerful parallelism is.
Sure, I use it in my writing.
But I hadn’t really thought much about it … until I started gathering examples.
And wow. Some of the best copywriters and social media writers use parallelism to communicate their message with power and style.
What’s more …
Parallelism makes your writing easier to read because readers recognize the patterns.
Writing this post opened my eyes.
Shall I show you?
What is parallelism in writing?
Parallelism is when parts within a sentence or whole sentences follow the same pattern.
For instance, here’s how Apple’s copywriters use parallelism when they describe the action mode on iPhone 14:
Shaky shots, stable video.
And they write about the camera on the iPhone 14:
Pro-level camera. Whoa-level pics.
And they describe the Retina display of the Apple Watch Series 8:
Take it all in. Get it all done.
Say more with fewer words
Adam Grant is a psychologist, professor, and bestselling author.
He’s also a smart social media communicator who knows how to harness the power of parallelism.
For instance, in the following update he shares his message about the importance of taking time off in just 52 words:
In toxic cultures, you have to burn out to earn a break. Time off is how you recover.
In decent cultures, you take a break when you’re low on gas. Time off is how you refuel.
In healthy cultures, you’re expected to take regular breaks. Time off is encouraged to sustain energy.
The tweet above has been one of Grant’s most popular tweets this year so far. It received over 2,000 retweets and over 7,000 likes.
I’m not surprised. Grant gives a valuable perspective on a popular topic, and he goes against the common view that you can rest when you’re dead. Plus, he lays out his view in easy-to-follow parallel observations:
First, you can see at a glance that this text contrasts 3 types of cultures:
- Toxic cultures
- Decent cultures
- Healthy cultures
Next, Grant explains the practice of taking breaks in each of these cultures. Again, there’s parallelism:
- You have to burn out to earn a break.
- You take a break when you’re low on gas.
- You’re expected to take regular breaks.
And lastly, the observation ends with almost parallel conclusions:
- Time off is how you recover.
- Time off is how you refuel.
- Time off is encouraged to sustain energy.
The 3rd conclusion breaks the pattern of parallelism. The previous two conclusions both start with Time off is how you … But the 3rd disrupts that pattern, and that disruption helps stress the encouragement you’ll only find in healthy work cultures.
So, parallelism can help condense a lot of information into a few words. And that’s a sign of good writing and of good thinking:
So-so writers use a lot of words to communicate little. Good writers use fewer words to communicate a lot.
Parallelism sharpens your thinking
When you read Grant’s tweets, the parallelism feels straightforward.
But to condense information in such a simple format requires you to consider carefully:
- What are you contrasting with what?
- And what’s the difference between the two?
For instance, Grant compares complex thinkers and smooth talkers, and how we react to them differently:
We pay too much attention to the most confident voices—and too little attention to the most thoughtful ones.
Certainty is not a sign of credibility. Speaking assertively is not a substitute for thinking deeply.
It’s better to learn from complex thinkers than smooth talkers.
Did you notice the 3 parallel constructions?
Parallel construction #1—within the first sentence:
- Too much attention to the most confident voices
- Too little attention to the most thoughtful ones
Parallel construction #2—the second and third sentence:
- Certainty is not a sign of credibility.
- Speaking assertively is not a substitute for thinking deeply.
Parallel construction #3 at the end of the last sentence:
- Complex thinkers
- Smooth talkers
A parallel construction is ideal for use on social media, but you can also use it for bullet points, headlines, subheads, and whenever you want to stress a key point. Try using it to bust a myth, share a nugget of wisdom, or communicate a surprising insight.
How to practice parallelism
Inspired by Adam Grant’s writing, I wanted to try using parallelism for social media updates.
I started by thinking about the difference between good and bad writers. For instance:
Good writers think their first draft is crappy, and they get to work editing that draft.
Lesser writers think their first draft is marvelous, and they fail to sharpen their thinking.
Poor copy explains how a product performs.
Persuasive copy shows how a product solves a customer’s problem.
People don’t buy a product; they buy a better life.
Next, I thought about the myths about writing. Could I put those into parallel sentences, too?
I wrote this inspired by a quote from Einstein:
A blog reader is not a container you fill with tips and tricks. A blog reader is a torch you light up with your enthusiasm, inspiration, tips, and ideas.
(Einstein said: “Student is not a container you have to fill but a torch you have to light up.”)
Using a parallel construction is a fun challenge. Try to play and move the words around. If it doesn’t work, take a break and try again.
The power of parallelism
I used to think that parallelism was just a neat trick.
Something for poets and wordsmiths.
But parallelism not only helps your words flow more smoothly, it also helps make your text easier to read.
Parallelism may even help sharpen your thinking so you can communicate more with fewer words.
And isn’t that a super-skill in a world of information overload and hurried readers?