Some years ago, a discount department store ran an ad in which two similarly dressed persons appeared. The announcer—in a loud, annoying voice—called out article after article: a dress shirt from a high-priced department store compared to a similar shirt from the discount store. “It’s the same thing.” After each item—the slacks, the tie, the shoes—he repeated in the increasingly obnoxious tone, “It’s the same thing.”Editors are trained to look for repetitions and redundancies. And no, they are not the same thing. Click To Tweet
Repetition is unnecessarily repeating something. Most often, I attribute this to a copy and paste gone wrong. In the process of rearranging a piece, a writer accidentally copied a section rather than cutting and pasting into the new location. Or she inadvertently repeats a thought—perhaps using slightly different words. Restating or summarizing a concept is not only acceptable, but also a good technique to ensure the reader understands and remembers the point. Repeatedly uttering the same concept, however, even using different wording, will annoy the reader.
Redundant means something is no longer useful or needed. In certain areas, redundancy is built into operations. NASA, for example, devises more than one way for a task to be accomplished. If one method fails, there’s a backup. But readers expect—and deserve—our writing to be concise.
Redundant words can be eliminated from our writing without losing the meaning. Although many redundant phrases have slipped into our speech, we tend not to notice or care—much—when we hear them as much as when we see them in print. But it’s important to eliminate redundancies like the following in our writing.
- absolutely essential
- basic necessities
- former memory
- future planning
- end result
In each phrase, eliminating the first word not only does not change the meaning but strengthens the writing. For more redundant phrases to avoid, see Mark Nichol’s post at Daily Writing Tips.
A close cousin to redundancy is wordiness. Wordiness comes in several forms. I’ll touch on two here and save the others for another post.
- Remove qualifiers. These are modifiers that limit or enhance the meaning of other words, but are rarely necessary in our writing. One of the simplest ways to eliminate wordiness is to remove words like little, very, rather, really, somewhat. Mark Twain, never once to mince words, suggests: “Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very. Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
- Eliminate empty words. Good writing is concise. Its impact is in the power of the right word in the right place. Avoid words with little or no meaning or value. A frequent offender today: literally. Others to watch out for include phrases such as: in the process of, whether or not, in order to, and needless to say.
Once again Twain again offers succinct advice: “… use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences … don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.” In other words: Keep it plain and simple.