I'm trying to explain to a friend why this is faulty parallelism; can anyone help or provide relevant sources to cite?

"... by evaluating customer needs, identifying, and implementing a solution."

My contention is that this should be recast as "evaluating customer needs and identifying and implementing a solution" (or simply "evaluating customer needs and implementing a solution"). I've pointed out the underlying structure--"evaluating X, identifying Y, and implementing Y"--but he's not convinced.

(Note - I've changed the words to avoid posting a Google-able chunk of his resume here, so I'm afraid that suggestions on rewording the whole thing will not necessarily be applicable.)

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    Skip the "identifying" and therefore all the commas. You can't supply it if you can't identify it. – John Lawler Jun 3 '15 at 18:50
  • The whole clause is ambiguous the way it is currently written. What is he identifying? I would rewrite it as "...by evaluating customer needs, identifying problems, and implementing solutions." If you post more of the context, I (or someone else) might be able to give you a grammatical explanation that will satisfy your client(?). – user70809 Jun 3 '15 at 19:10
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    The problem is that because Y=Z, Y is missing in "evaluating X, identifying Y, and implementing Z". You can fix that: "By evaluating customer needs, identifying a solution, and implementing it." – Peter Shor Jun 3 '15 at 19:11
  • I agree with the suggestion to skip "identifying" (it can be assumed)... I would post more context, but it's a friend's resume, and since I didn't ask him before posting the question, I don't feel I can provide more details. He could perhaps replace Y with some third thing in "identifying Y." Unfortunately, "identifying Y and implementing it" would be problematic because Y is a much longer phrase than I provided here. – Christine Jun 3 '15 at 21:05
  • But you can identify a solution without supplying it, and that service is often a billable service in consulting. Evaluating customer needs, identifying and evaluating solutions, and implementing the solution chosen. – TRomano Jun 3 '15 at 21:40

The phrases conjoined by "and" have to all be of the same grammatical type, and the new phrase created will also be of that same type. That's the only principle involved here, though the details are complicated. In the example, there are 3 phrases conjoined, so all three should be the same type, but they're not:

... by [evaluating customer needs], [identifying], and [implementing a solution]

We have three gerund forms of: (a) a transitive verb phrase ("evaluate customer needs", (b) a transitive verb ("identify") without a direct object, (c) another transitive verb phrase ("implement a solution"). So that's the problem here. A verb has been conjoined with verb phrases, and a verb is not the same type as a verb phrase, since verb phrases include direct objects.

The most straightforward way to fix this is to supply a direct object for the verb "identifying" --

... by [evaluating customer needs], [identifying a solution], and [implementing the solution]

-- because now, we'll have three verb phrases, all the same type, conjoined by "and". This is grammatical, unlike the first version. However, it has become a little wordy. A more involved way to fix it is the one you've suggested, which has two "and" conjunctions, one inside the other:

... by [evaluating customer needs] and [ [[identifying] and [implementing]] a solution] ]

The first "and" connects the two verb phrases (a) "evaluating customer needs" and (b) "identifying and implementing a solution", where the (b) verb phrase consists of a verb "identifying and implementing" and a direct object "a solution". "Identifying" is a transitive verb, "implementing" is a transitive verb, so when they are conjoined by "and", we get a phrase of the same type: a transitive verb "identifying and implementing". This transitive verb, then, combines with "a solution" to form a verb phrase.

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Interesting. Your friend has effectively described customer needs as a problem, which is what you need a solution for - solution singular, I notice. Business-speak, I don't miss it.

I strongly suspect that the "identifying" is supposed to apply to the "solution", as in the "pick from a police line-up" sense. It doesn't make sense applied to "needs". If you haven't identified the needs, you don't even know there's a job ahead of you.

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