Writing Help

Removing Redundancy: Writing Clearly and Concisely

Introduction

There will sometimes be a strong tendency for most of us to clutter up our writing, with a host of unnecessary words or phrases in the text. This is especially true when writing to a set word count perhaps, in which sometimes a little "padding" will assist. It doesn't change the negative impact that the clutter of redundant words and phrases are likely to have on the quality of our writing.

Redundancy, defined in the dictionary as the "superfluous repetition or overlapping of words", is best avoided in any line of communication between writer and reader, whatever the form of writing. Embellishing one's work with words can add a literary quality to a text, but trying too hard may be akin to "not seeing the wood because of the trees". Don't pay an excessive amount of attention to unnecessary details. Focus on the substance of what you're trying to say through writing, first and foremost of all.

Avoiding redundancy

Repetition, unnecessary words, use of meaningless jargon, and use of pompous or over-the-top sentences and phrases are the main culprits behind redundancy in writing. Below are some examples, with clean versions that "tighten" the writing and convey the same information more clearly and concisely:

  • Redundant: There were three astronauts that went on each and every Apollo space mission to the moon.
  • Clear and concise: There were three astronauts on every Apollo moon mission.
  • Redundant: All things being equal, the leaders of the Students Union Association will consider the argument, and make their final decision by vote on Wednesday next week at an open meeting.
  • Clear and concise: The Students Union will announce the results of the vote at next Wednesday's open meeting.

Clear and concise writing saves both the writer and his/her readers a great deal of time (and patience). It makes the document more "palatable" and straight to the point.

There are commonly used phrases that do nothing but clutter up a sentence – and subsequently, the entire text. Unless necessary, avoid phrases like:

  • As I was trying to say...
  • At this point in time...
  • For the most part...
  • For the purpose of...
  • In a manner of speaking...
  • In the final analysis...
  • As far as I am concerned...
  • Be that as it may...

Particularly in the area of academic or research paper writing, the above phrases are best avoided. They convolute your sentences. They may be tempting, yes; they may sound fancy; but strive to achieve "snappy" and concise writing by doing away with them. Always keep the writing simple.

Less is more

Always check and double-check to see if there is needless repetition, or if there are any redundant words, phrases, or expressions that can be removed. Less is more, and don't say in three sentences what you can say in one.

Take a look at the following paragraph, and note that the words and characters in bold are words and characters that can be easily removed from the text without changing the meaning and flow of the document.

"She'd fit, for the most part, in a shoebox, so it's hard enough to recall a time when Allison, our Shih Tzu, was noticeably smaller. But, be that as it may, when we for the first time brought her into our house about six years ago, she was positively microscopic. Allison, for the most part, liked to hide in impossible spaces (if only because she could): between the fridge and the china cabinet, behind the open front door and entrance (flanking the umbrellas), under the coffee table, behind the sofa, her hairs ruining the bejesus out of the living room carpet."

Delete those words and characters in bold and you have a passage that reads more swiftly and gracefully.

Another common mistake is to resort to repetition as a means of emphasizing a point. Words of emphasis sure are essential, but don't "over-emphasize" in such a way that you are underestimating your readers' comprehension and ability.

"Above all, there is, of course, absolutely no need indeed to decorate your sentence with words and phrases of emphasis if, without them, the sentence undeniably is indeed equally capable of stressing your point."

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