Don't Let Errors Ruin Your Submission Pt 7: Writing Lists

Welcome to the 7th post of Don't Let Errors Ruin Your Submissions!

You might think your manuscript's fascinating story potential should rise above any typos and poor grammar, but the truth is agents and publishers receive an onslaught of submissions. They give most of these submissions a few seconds before deciding whether to pass or keep reading. That means any red flags can prompt a rejection.

Poor grammar can be a red flag!

I say "can" because there will always be the exception to the rule. Counting on being the exception to the rule is NOT a good idea. You need to clean up your submission.

Don't let errors ruin your submission's chances!

This week, we're taking a look at Rule 9 which looks at using lists in your writing. Although this rule doesn't touch on the Oxford comma, I'm going to add that information, too.

9.  Use parallel construction to make a strong point and create a smooth flow.

Let's take a moment to define the terms:
  • Parallel construction: words or phrases written in the same form
  • Oxford comma: the comma placed before the conjunction in a list of items

Parallel Construction

Do you remember on Sesame Street when they'd sing "One of These Things?" Something in the clip would not be like the other items. It didn't belong.  When you write a list, you don't want something that isn't like the others or doesn't belong. This can be in a sentence or as a numbered or bulleted list. No matter how you approach the list, the items in the list must be written in the same grammatical way. If your list items are nouns, then you can't have one item in the list that isn't a noun. If your list items are -ing phrases, then all of the items in the list must be -ing phrases.


The dragon said the villager wasn't a good snack because he kicked too much, tasted like manure, and his fingernails scratched on the way down.

In this example the first two items in the list are parallel (kicked, tasted), but the third is not a past tense verb, it's an independent clause.


The dragon said the villager wasn't a good snack because he kicked too much, tasted like manure, and scratched his throat.

Now the list has three words of the same form: kicked, tasted, scratched.

This rule applies even when providing numbered steps or bulleted lists. Check out my links list at the end of this post. Not only do they start with the post number and hyperlink, but their descriptions start with the article "a" for each one.

Also, it's important for section headers at the same outline level to be of the same form. Notice my main subject headers in this post are "Parallel Construction," "Oxford Commas." and "Previous Posts." All three are nouns modified by an adjective. They, also, are formatted the same way.

Oxford Commas

Even the people who know how to use commas don't always agree on how to use them in a list. You can find multitudes of memes showing why people prefer the Oxford comma—a simple rule complicated by people who decided we didn't need the last comma before the conjunction in a list. Somewhere along the way, schools started teaching that the comma before the "and" or "or" at the end of the list was not necessary. Me? I prefer using the Oxford comma. It improves comprehension and eliminates confusion.

Without Oxford Comma: We went caroling with our dogs, Grandma and Grandpa.

So, the dogs' names are Grandma and Grandpa?

With Oxford Comma: We went caroling with our dogs, Grandma, and Grandpa.

Oh! Your grandparents and your dogs went caroling with you.

Previous Posts

If you've missed the previous 6 posts in this series, never fear!

Part 1: an overview of the top 11 grammar rules to follow

Part 2a look at compound sentences and punctuation

Part 3: an exploration of proper comma usage

Part 4: an overview of the proper use of apostrophes to indicate possessive nouns

Part 5: an explanation of dialogue punctuation

Part 6: a look at subject agreement with verbs, participial phrases, appositives, and pronouns

Next week, we'll look at the last two rules, numbers 10 & 11 which explore the active voice an unnecessary words.

Questions? Leave them in the comments!

Image courtesy of Andrew Martin


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