image of a man in a black crewneck shirt beside another man in a black crewneck shirt
Image credit to José León on Unsplash.

Is There an Echo in Here?

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.

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. In nonfiction, 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 technology professions, redundancy is built into operations. You likely know there’s more than one way to complete an operation on your computer. NASA 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. Many redundant phrases have slipped into our speech. We tend not to notice or care as much when we hear them 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. Here are two practices to develop that will make your writing tighter.

Remove qualifiers. These are modifiers that limit or enhance the meaning of other words. Words like little, very, rather, really, somewhat. This is one of the simplest ways to eliminate wordiness. Mark Twain offers this direct advice: “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.

I’ve been editing for ten years and currently freelance for several publishers as well as my own clients. Language is one of God’s good gifts to us and one of my highest values is ensuring that we communicate with clarity and excellence. I find a great deal of pleasure in helping authors use the right word at the right time.


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