The video tutorial on parallel structure

The fact that the people in this photo are arranged with similar visual structure (in rows with the same color and design of clothing) is one of the main reasons you can quickly pick out a “team.”  (The other reason has to do with spatial proximity.) The use of similarity to impose order the chaotic stream of perceptions available to us is an innate psychological fact of human cognition. It’s how our minds work.

During graduate school, I became fascinated with how the psychology of perception applied to discourse. My first book, Coherence, Continuity, and Cohesion, used principles from Gestalt psychology for predicting one aspect of coherence — that of continuity. Here’s what I wrote:

The theoretical core of this book argues that the cognitive principles that explain why humans “sense” unity in a succession of sounds (a whole musical piece) or in a configuration of visual shapes (a complete object) are the basis of principles which explain why we “sense” unity in oral, written, and electronically produced documents.

The book demonstrates how the principle of similarity applies to the entire range of elements in a document: from typographic (like italics) to phonological (like rhyme) to syntactic (like parallelism).  Let me give you fair warning. The book is written for researchers — not amateur or pro practitioners.

The point for amateur workplace writers is that they need to make reader perception work in their favor. One tool for doing that is the use of similar sentence structure to convey related content. Here is a tutorial with specific guidance based on a chapter in Revising Professional Writing.

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