Needless Repetition: Editing Exercise


We can tighten our writing by eliminating needless repetition, those words and phrases that do not add anything to what we have written, and may even make us appear foolish. The challenge is that we frequently hear needless repetitions on the radio and TV, from conversations with our relatives, and in the breakroom with coworkers. For instance, you might hear someone say: “Courtney plans to finish her thesis and move back to Houston in the month of October.” The more often we hear or read such redundant phrases, the more acceptable they begin to sound to us – even though none of us needs to be reminded that October is a month!

Since we hear them so often, repetitious phrases may creep into our writing, but that’s what edits are for! Even if these insipid phrases sneak into our rough drafts, we can train our eagle eyes to catch them as we edit, especially if we plan to send our writing to the boss – or a publisher.


Practice looking for redundant terms in the sentences below and decide which words should be deleted.

1. It is a true fact that the U.S. has more divorces per capita than any country in the world.

2. If you want to go to Quebec after graduation, you had better make plans in advance for public transportation.

3. Timmy said the UFO he spotted was oblong in shape.

4. According to our mayor, the root cause of west side crime is poverty.

5. Michelle said she didn’t care what we gave her as long as it was purple in color.

6. We have yet to ascertain the final outcome from their efforts.

7. From what I was told, they have stamped his past history as Top Secret.

8. If we don’t stop that company from buying up the competition, they will have a complete monopoly of the software market.

9. The little people in her diorama are made out of clay.

10. “George, you had better make advance reservations at that hotel before we get on the plane!”

11. Mother has to descend down the basement stairs to do the family laundry.

12. Everyone who attends the grand opening celebration will receive a free gift.

13. Mary made him repeat his promise twice.

14. In my personal opinion, the lines at the Post Office have grown too long.

15. Becky was late getting home because of a terrible tragedy at work.

16. Because of their past memories of Fido, the children cried when he was euthanized.

17. “You two cannot play X-Box games until you have completely finished your homework.”

18. As he took apart the motor, Fred spread out the component parts on the picnic table.

19. Did you know that she called me at 1 a.m. in the morning?

20. The rally attendance was estimated at about one thousand.

21. On Thursday, each and every child will receive a cupcake after lunch.

22. Nancy rejoiced when her calculus class was over and done with.

Click the link below if you want to look at the Answers for this exercise.
Note: This opens a single-page PDF file.

Happy Editing!
(c) November 6, 2011

Related topics:
Tighten your Writing by Eliminating Redundancy

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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

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Needless Repetition: Editing Exercise

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Rambling Sentences, part 2: Fixing Them

The first article about rambling sentences (“What is a Rambling Sentence?”) discussed rambling sentences and why they should be fixed, especially as a favor for the reader.
Part 2 contains several fiction and nonfiction long-winded sentences along with a rewrite of each.

Nonfiction Examples

Transmitter including a controllable power amplifier, whose output signal is fed back to a control input of the power amplifier via a detector device which produces a detector signal for detecting the output power of the power amplifier, and comprising a signal generator for producing a control signal which is used for forming the output signal and has rising and falling edges. (62 words – one sentence)

The transmitter includes a controllable power amplifier, whose output signal is fed back to the amplifier through a detector device. The signal generator in the detector device produces a signal that detects the output of the power amplifier. The rising and falling edges in the signal generator form the output signal. (51 words – three sentences)

1. Changed including to includes.
2. Eliminated redundant terms.
3. Rearranged phrases and clauses to eliminate unnecessary prepositions.
4. Transformed the long-winded sentence to three individual sentences.

This invention provides a system and method for manually balancing the volume of air supplied through at least one duct to a conditioned space, the system including a damper rotatably mounted within the air duct by a damper shaft having a first and second ends, an electronic pulse actuator responsive to an electronic pulse being associated with the first end, a housing associated with the electronic pulse actuator is generally adapted for operably connecting the electronic pulse actuator to the air duct and a remote positioning unit in electric communication with the electronic pulse actuator where the damper is rotated between an open and a closed position for manually balancing the conditioned space to receive the desired volume of air. (120 words – one sentence) – [Please note, I quoted this sentence as it was written; the misspelled words are not mine - see the rewrite below.]

This system provides a method for manually balancing the volume of air from at least one duct to a conditioned space. The system includes a rotatable damper mounted within the air duct. The housing unit for the electronic pulse actuator and remote positioning unit is positioned at one end of the damper. Electronic communication with the electronic pulse actuator rotates the damper to control the volume of air entering the conditioned space. (72 words – four sentences)

Fixing this sentence took awhile, mostly because the original sentence was written by technicians for whom English is a second language.
1. First I read the sentence several times to make sure I understood the writer’s intent.
2. Then I replaced the non-words (rotatably and operably), which involved rewriting those phrases.
3. I broke the sentence into six smaller sentences, which made the tightening and editing process more manageable.
4. Finally I deleted redundant phrases and combined a few clauses until I ended up with four sentences that are easy to read and understand.

Fiction Examples

The climate on Jonas Island was noticeably milder than the blustery, inhospitable weather on the mainland forty miles away, and the same could be said of the agricultural products grown in the two places as well as the trade goods available in both places, including the handmade crafts, which the islanders often wove from the tall grass that grew on the eastern part of the island, the only place where this type of grass could be found, even though for centuries the mainlanders had tried unsuccessfully to grow it in their rocky soil. (95 words – one sentence)

People found the climate on Jonas Island much milder than the blustery, inhospitable weather that stalked the mainland 40 miles away. Not only did the weather differ between the two places, the agricultural products, trade goods and handmade crafts differed too. The islanders often wove their baskets and dolls from the tall grass that grew in the middle of the island, which appeared to be the only place this plant would grow. For centuries the jealous mainlanders had tried to cultivate that unique grass, but the plant refused to take root in their rocky soil. (95 words – four sentences)

Even though the word count is the same in these two narratives, the rewrite contains a few additional words that help the story flow better.

From what Lynn remembered of his parents’ stories, which they told to him when he was only ten or younger, together with what his foster parents had told him about his family, Lynn knew that his first cousin’s name was Bernard, the only child of Lynn’s uncle on his father’s side, which meant that Bernard and Lynn (both the only children of their parents) shared the same last name, although Lynn had no idea what Bernard looked like or if he even wanted to meet an orphan cousin he had to reason to care about. (95 words – one sentence)

From what Lynn could remember, his parents and foster parents had all told him that he had a first cousin named Bernard, whom he hadn’t seen since he was a child. He and Bernard had several things in common, including the same last name and being raised as an only child. But what if the similarity ended there? What if this cousin bore no resemblance to Lynn and couldn’t care less about a relative he hadn’t seen in over 10 years? (81 words – four sentences)

This was the easiest sentence to fix. The original rambling sentence did have a certain flow to it, which I strove to maintain when I broke it up. I changed the last sentences to questions to help increase the reader’s interest in Lynn’s drama.

Okay, that’s it for rambling sentences. Next we will tackle redundancy.

Happy Halloween!!
(c) October 31, 2011

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What is a Rambling Sentence?

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What is a “rambling sentence”?

Rambling sentences reflect composition by a hurried, lazy or inexperienced writer. The reason writers should find and fix rambling sentences is their tendency to frustrate readers, which can happen in either fiction or nonfiction. As most writers know – frustrating the reader is not a goal!

This article examines the idiosyncrasies and characteristics of the rambling sentence, including ways to spot them and fix them before they are released to the readers.

Rambling Definition

Definitions of rambling include: roaming, wandering, digression, straggling, ambling, drifting, roving, and meandering. For composition, we can add unplanned to the definition list since most rambling sentences are not well planned. This is obvious in the examples below.

Rambling Sentence Examples

In this case, since the shelf description text must be hidden for the Web in order not to show up in the main window, the content of those elements is duplicated between the Web items and the print one, so whenever possible this should be avoided to prevent needing to update the information in both places.

Although the two men were strangers, they fought as if they had known each other long enough to build a history of hard feelings, grabbing and poking at each other, then hitting and punching until they crashed through a table onto the floor, but they got back up to fight some more, even though they were wheezing and bleeding neither of them would give up and it seemed that neither of them wanted the other one to give up either.

Rambling Characteristics

Sentences that ramble have a diverse set of problems and characteristics, including:

  1. They are exceedingly long and contain too many independent (and other) clauses.
  2. The length and numerous clauses tend to obscure the key point.
  3. They often confuse the reader, causing them to reread the sentence. The reader knows that they read “words” but they don’t have a clear idea what those words meant.
  4. They usually contain too many ideas.
  5. If read aloud, these long passages need to be read very fast, before the reader runs out of air.
  6. They make the author appear unorganized or worse, uninformed.
  7. Even if the disparate thoughts contain enough conjunctions to link them all together, sentences that ramble destroy the intended tone of the story or article.
  8. They are generally written by young or inexperienced writers.

Nonfiction Rambling

In business communication, rambling sentences make the readers work harder to find the information they need to take away from the article, bulletin or manual. In a business memo, letter or announcement, rambling text can defeat the whole purpose for distribution. That is, an employee may read an entire department bulletin and still not understand what they were supposed to learn from it.

In business letters, memos and announcements, writers often compose long-winded, rambling sentences in an effort to “catch everything.”  Message clarity generally requires planning before pen is set to paper, even for short documents. Planning helps writers see which information can easily be organized into bulleted or numbered lists or separated into short sentences and paragraphs.

Fiction Rambling

In fiction, not all long sentences are rambling sentences. In a story, entertaining and effective sentences can be v-e-r-y long. Some authors can create sentences that take up a full page, all without boring or annoying the reader. Thus, in fiction the goal is not to write like Hemmingway (with short, staccato sentences) or to write like an office manager (with bulleted lists), but to make sure no matter how long the sentence, the movement never wanes, the reader never gets lost, and the tone or tempo of the story does not depreciate.

In a well-constructed sentence the action and pertinent information keep the reader interested and reading, regardless of sentence length. Here’s an example of a long sentence (69 words) that holds the reader’s interest:

James had been raised in a series of crappy apartments and aging trailer courts – whatever his grandmother could afford – all of which had three things in common: roaches large enough to wear doll clothes, neighbors addicted to late night arguments fueled by cheap wine, and scrappy unsupervised kids who had no patience for a nerd who was more interested in bird’s eggs and biology than stealing cigarettes and smoking.

Although the sentence is long, it does not contain any comma splices, nor does it have numerous independent clauses tied together with lots of conjunctions, both of which are common grammatical problems in rambling sentences. The writer begins with a statement about how he was raised and ends with how this environment left him feeling estranged. A whole childhood is wrapped up in that one long but tightly written sentence.

Now let’s contrast this long sentence with a rambling sentence:

After all the fun and laughter had subsided, when most of the colored lights had been turned off, the patio seemed strangely empty, and where once a joyous throng of relatives and friends had danced and clapped and sung, a creepy silence had settled amid the vacant tables and abandoned chairs, had all but hidden the shadowy gazebo, for night had shrouded the backyard and at long last, the party had finally ended.

Rambling sentences like this one require the reader to stop at an unnatural place to “take a mental breath.”  This happens because rambling sentences usually lack natural pauses. The sentence above needs to be cut into at least two sentences, probably more, so that the action or theme still flows but the reader senses a natural pause between the sentences instead of struggling to find a logical place to pause in the midst of this confusion.

These two sentences contain a similar number of words, but the first sentence has several cleverly constructed places where the reader can naturally pause without losing momentum.

Two Ways to Catch a Rambling Sentence

Here are two good ways to spot a rambling sentence before it goes to press:

  1. Writers should get in the habit of reading their writing out loud. If they don’t want anyone to hear them, they can go out in the car or hide in a closet with a flashlight. Reading aloud helps writers hear when a sentence fails to lend the reader a natural place to “take a breath” before continuing.
  2. Count the coordinating conjunctions (‘and’ ‘or’ ‘but’) and subordinating conjunctions (‘because’, ‘when’, ‘although’, and so on).  If a sentence contains a plethora of these conjunctions, then it just may be a rambler; if so, it needs to be separated into two or more sentences.

I hope you enjoy this article as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Happy Writing!!
(c) October 28, 2011

Related topics:
Rambling Sentences part 2: Fixing Them

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Introduction to the Write Tight Site

Welcome to the blog I’ve dedicated to Tight Writing.

What is tight writing? It’s writing that has been sufficiently tightened so the paragraphs don’t wander, taking forever to get to the point, and the sentences don’t confuse the reader into having to read them again.  Most readers hate when that happens.  Writing that is wordy, presumptuous or repetitious loses those readers who either don’t have the time or the patience to wade through awkward prose as they search for the point!

Tight writing doesn’t cause readers to yawn, wince, shake their heads, or wish the pain would end; instead, tight writing gets in, gets the job done, and then gets out – or gets on with it.  As writers edit their prose to make it tighter, they eliminate confusing, boring text while increasing both interest and clarity.

Tight writing is not only a joy to read but is easy to comprehend and remember because it is rhythmical and logical. The ability to tighten your writing can win you a writing contest, a coveted promotion, a newspaper column, or (gasp!) a book deal.  It is a handy skill indeed.

Thank you for visiting! I hope you enjoy your stay.
Happy Writing!

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