Tighten Your Writing by Eliminating Redundancy

What do I mean by ‘redundancy’? As many of you know, redundancy in a computer network is important, even necessary, and for some businesses, it may be a matter of life or death. In the computer world, redundancy means that you are backing up your data backups to make absolutely sure your data is safe in the event of a system crash or natural disaster.

However, since this is a writing blog I want to examine how redundancy creeps into our writing, adding superfluous words that don’t help our meaning and may even lessen the impact of our message. Plus, of course, there is always the chance that our readers may be aware of the redundancy and think, Hmmmm, does that writer realize what they just wrote? Most of the time, we don’t want our readers to think that about our writing …

Redundancy in a Nutshell

Words in redundant phrases are repetitious, stating the same thing twice, such as the phrase “few in number.” The word “few” already means a small amount or a small number, so “in number” is redundant and should be dropped from the phrase. The same holds true for the phrase “consensus of opinion” because the definition of “consensus” is majority of opinion. Thus “of opinion” needs to be scrubbed. In fact, the redundant phrase “consensus of opinion” has earned a lot of criticism, and rightly so. It isn’t often found in formal writing any more but we hear it often enough that it can easily creep into our speech.

Unfortunately the more frequently we hear certain word combinations the more acceptable they begin to sound to us, even if they don’t make a lot of sense. Then, the more acceptable they sound, the more apt we are to insert them in our letters, papers, bulletins and stories. With practice we can eliminate redundant phrases from our writing, although it may be difficult to weed them from our speech. In this instance, we can tell our students, teachers, readers and children to pay attention to what we write and not to what we say.

Common Redundant Modifiers

In this list, the unneeded words have been italicized.

cooperate together final completion collaborate together
the future to come round in shape connect together
basic essentials habitual custom descent down
basic fundamentals personal beliefs empty hole
end result past history entirely eliminate
climb up new initiatives evolve over time
terrible tragedy past memories small size
true fact free gift spliced together
future plan important essentials write down
foreign import armed gunman final ultimatum
advance reservations blend together input into
brief summary completely filled joint collaboration
natural instinct mental telepathy revert back

Common Redundant Categories

When the word already implies its category, don’t write both the word and the category. For instance, square in shape and blue in color are redundant because everyone knows square is a shape and blue is a color. Redundant categories can actually confuse or perplex our readers. Remember, when the category is understood in the word, leave it off. These are some common redundant categories:

  • heavy in weight — Since heavy is a weight, in weight is redundant.
  • in a confused state — Since confused is a mental state, the words in a state are unnecessary.
  • shiny in appearance — Since shiny is how the object appears, in appearance is redundant.
  • honest in character — Since honesty is a character trait, in character is redundant.
  • unusual in nature — Since unusual is a fundamental quality of a person or thing, in nature is redundant.

A Wee Disclaimer

Please note that fiction writers sometimes use repetition as a matter of style to create or maintain a certain attitude, tension, or effect … literary license and all that. In business communication, writers will sometimes use repetition to emphasize or clarify a key idea. However, all writers should be cognizant of the redundant expressions that make our writing more wordy while decreasing its effectiveness.

Happy Writing!
(c) November 3, 2011

Related topics:
Needless Repetition: Editing Exercise

About Admin

Senior technical writer, editor, ghost writer, teacher, creative writer, artist and webmaster.
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39 Responses to Tighten Your Writing by Eliminating Redundancy

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