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Avoid repetition and redundancy in your writing

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 18th August , 2021 in The Write Fit
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This is an excerpt from the 50th edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter about writing, editing and proofreading, content marketing and good editorial practices for business, from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.

 

Is it Groundhog Day in your writing?

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in April. One of the secrets to our success is my ability to tune out a persistent habit he has of repeating everything two or three times in a single conversation.

He’s an engineer. I’ve discovered repetition is a common way engineers communicate with each other. Being risk-averse, they confirm and reconfirm an idea with their peers. It’s part of the collaborative way they work within a team and is totally expected.

It’s great for engineering but not so great for marriage. It’s especially not great for writers when each repetition comes packaged in an interruption. I can partially blame COVID-19 since he used to go to an office every day while I worked from home in blissful silence. The only repetition in my day was letting the dog out and that never made me feel murderous.

Repetition sucks for readers, too. Along with its first cousin redundancy, it’s one of the most insidious ways to clutter your writing and pad your word count. Your readers quickly lose interest and may not recognise why – especially if they don’t live with an engineer.

Are you falling victim to these (or similar) repetitions and redundancies?

  • sincere and heartfelt congratulations – Sincere and heartfelt mean the same thing.
  • tall skyscraper – If it’s not tall, it’s not a skyscraper.
  • happy smile – You might want to describe melancholy by saying someone has a sad smile (I wouldn’t recommend), but a smile implies happy.
  • official opening of the new premises – Does anyone officially open the old premises?
  • prestigious Oscar awards – The Oscar awards are widely recognised as being the pinnacle of the movie industry. You don’t need to remind people of the prestige.
  • a variety of different ways – You might have a variety of ways (say, five) or different ways (say, three) but I’d put money on a variety of different ways being an exponential mess you hadn’t intended.
  • free gift – If it’s not free, it’s not a gift.
  • overused cliché – It’s like the pot calling the kettle black.
  • unexpected surprise – If it was expected, it can’t be a surprise.
  • universal panacea – The panacea’s claim to fame is it’s universal.
  • closed fist – Hold your fist in front of your face. Now open it. Not a fist, right?
  • fast, easy financing – If it’s fast, it has to be easy.
  • safe, secure housing – Either word does the job.
  • dusty, dirty cobwebs – Have you ever experienced dust that could pass the white-glove test?
  • hilariously funny writing – It’s not funny if you’re trying this hard to convince me.
  • absolutely final – Sounds like you have an authority problem.
  • clear, concise copy – Come on, copywriters! Be better.
  • 110% – Those pesky Americans are efficient even in their redundancies.

If you’re writing to a word count — say, for an awards submission or feature article — scrutinising your copy for repetitive words and meanings is a great way to claw back valuable real estate on the page. It’s also going to add punch to what you’re saying and make things more interesting for your readers.

I’d love to hear examples you find in your own writing, especially if they’re specific to your industry. Send them through and I’ll include them in my next writing workshop. You never know whose marriage may benefit from the tip.

Sarah Mitchell
18 August 2021

 

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