R is for repetition

R is for repetition

The art of repeating your message, without saying something twice

Meet repetition and its sibling tautology. One can be used sparingly to drive your message; the other should be avoided.

In art and music, content without variation can be enjoyable. In writing that’s rarely the case.

In the battle between detail and resonant simplicity you may find yourself reiterating the important takeaways or themes of your text. This is important – you want your message to stick with the reader – but try to build on and develop what you’ve said rather than regurgitate. Always try to alter the phrases you use and condense repeated ideas.

Tautology in language is saying of the same thing with two or more successive words. Take a look at this sentence:

The HR department has drawn up plans for the orderly and logical training of managers and executives.

Trimming the two overlapping pairs of words will make the sentence simple and clear (couldn’t help it). ‘Mass exodus’ is another phrase we like, or rather don’t like, exodus already being a ‘mass departure’.

Thinking about repetitive words and phrases can make your writing more interesting, too. Instead of repeating a name over and over, use description or context. Say ‘the prime minister’ or ‘the former foreign secretary’ instead of Boris Johnson. Keep it simple though. (And please don’t call him Boris either.)

Obviously some repeats are unavoidable. You can’t limit your use of ‘a’, ‘and’ or ‘which’. Other common words like ‘said’ can be replaced, but try not to be too contrived. Littering your writing with ‘asserted’, ‘exclaimed’ or ‘declared’ might be less repetitive, but you will look daft.

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Francis Jay
Francis Jay

Writer and editor