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How to Use Parallel Construction in Your MBA Application Essays—and More on Being Appropriately Personal

Longer and more complex sentences often require parallel construction. Simply put, parallel construction ensures that any given longer sentence has a balanced rhythm or structure. With parallel construction, each pronoun corresponds with another pronoun, each verb corresponds with another verb, each adjective corresponds with another adjective, and so on. Parallel construction can certainly be found in shorter sentences as well, and to great effect.

Consider the example of Hamlet’s words “To be or not to be”—some of the most famous in the English language. Shakespeare wrote this short sentence in perfect parallel form; “to be” is matched perfectly with its corresponding negative “not to be” and is separated only by the necessary word “or.” Another short example of parallel construction from history is “I came, I saw, I conquered.” With these words, Julius Caesar spoke in perfect parallel construction—a pronoun (here the word “I”) followed by a verb in the past tense (“came,” “saw,” “conquered”).

If we were to change that second famous phrase just a touch, the powerful quality it now has would be lost, and the phrase would become unremarkable. For example, if Caesar had said, “I came, I saw, and I became the conqueror,” he would likely not be quoted today because the rhythm would have been destroyed. Keep this rule in mind for everything that you write, especially for longer sentences.

Here are a few more examples:

Bad

We are successful for three key reasons: we understand our client, we try harder than our competition, and teamwork.

Good

We are successful for three key reasons: understanding our client, trying harder than our competition, and working as a team. (In this example, gerunds [the words ending in “ing”] parallel each other, unlike in the previous, “bad” example.)

Bad

We are in the forestry business. We sell wood to hardware stores and paper to stationery stores.

Good

We are in the forestry business. We sell wood and paper.

On another note, we have previously discussed the importance of thoroughly exploring and accessing your personal stories when writing your application essays. Of course, having too much of a good thing is always a risk as well—admissions committees can be put off by candidates who go too far and become too personal.

Some stories are particularly challenging for admissions committees. For example, we strongly discourage candidates from writing about divorce as a moment of failure. If an individual were to take responsibility in an essay for a failed marriage, they would likely end up revealing intensely personal issues, rather than portraying themselves as having learned from a constructive professional or personal challenge.

Always keep in mind that in many ways, the admissions committee is meeting you for the first time via your application. So, a simple way to judge whether you are being too personal in your materials is to ask yourself, “Would I be uncomfortable if, immediately upon meeting someone, they were to share this sort of information with me?” If your answer is “yes,” you should most likely consider changing your topic.



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