By: Marilyn L. Davis
“Last month we had to sit through a presentation on eliminating redundancy, and it was a bunch of PowerPoint slides, plus a guy reading out what was on the slides, and then he gave us all hard copies. I don’t understand these things.” ― Max Berry, Company
Looking at that sentence, maybe there was concern that not all readers would know the meaning of ‘verbose’, so I wrote several other similar words – rather like a built-in Thesaurus. Some readers may appreciate not having to look the word up in a dictionary, but I’ll bet that more readers found it annoying to see a string of redundant words.
Granted, I am someone that values dictionaries, and if I find a word I don’t know, I look it up. However, I can also provide a link to questionable words and not belabor the point. Readers then have the option to click the link or continue with their reading. However, there may be times that redundancy is good writing, if it reduces the chances of the words being misread or misinterpreted.
Simply put, redundant writing is using words or phrases that are unnecessary. As Strunk and White tell us in Elements of Style, “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
Unfortunately, there are countless ways that writers are redundant.
Wordy verbs just get in the way of sound structure in your sentences.
I am aware of or have knowledge of addiction and recovery.
- Better: I know about addiction and recovery.
Marilyn is going shopping at the mall and will take her grandkids, too.
- Better: I’m taking the grandkids shopping.
Drinking every night might be an indication that there is an addiction.
- Better: Nightly drinking suggests addiction.
Over-explaining the noun
Redundancy also shows up when the modifier, either an adjective or adverb, over explains the noun.
- The current status quo: Status quo is about the current conditions
- Early beginnings: Beginnings are always early in the process
- Uphill climb: both references moving up.
- Mental attitude: All attitudes are mental
- Make reservations ahead of time: a reservation is made in the future.
- Few in number: few always references numbers
- (Final) conclusions
- Collaborate (together)
- Write (down)
- Summarize (briefly)
Tautology: Redundant Ideas and Expressions
Taken from the Greek word ‘tauto’, meaning the same and ‘logos’ meaning a word or an idea, tautology refers to words or ideas repeated within the phrase, sentence or paragraph.
Some writers use this technique to give the impression of providing extra information.
Difference Between Tautology and Repetition
Tautology states the same thing twice in a redundant way:
- “If we do not succeed, we run the risk of failure.”—Dan Quayle
- “They are simply going to have to score more points than the other team to win the game.”—John Madden
- “You can observe a lot by watching.” —Yogi Berra
- “It’s no exaggeration to say the undecideds could go one way or another.”—George H.W. Bush
Repetition is sometimes used to add emphasis or present the idea from other perspectives. There are over fifteen types of repetition. Some examples that stay with us are:
Anadiplosis or gradatio: Repetition of the last word of one line as the first word of the next.
- “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Epizeuxis or palilogia: Repetition of the same word or phrase without any words in between.
- “Row, row, row your boat.”
Epistrophe: Repetition of a word at the end of every line or clause.
- “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Catching yourself as you’re writing is good, but remember what Murray Walker says, “With half the race gone, there is half the race still to go.”
Some writers live by the ‘word-count.’ I know when I was required to write ‘at least 1800 words’ to get an editor’s review, I added fluff. I’m sure you have, too.
However, when you start reducing your posts to concise writing, you respect the reader, engage them, and realize that some posts say it all in eight-hundred words.
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