Less Is More: The Redundancy Trap

December 10, 2014

It’s no secret: PR and corporate communications professionals spend an extraordinary amount of time writing. Yet, we often don’t have time to review our work to ensure it’s as effective as it could be.

When editing other people’s writing, and admittedly sometimes my own, I notice people falling into the redundancy trap. In conversation, it’s easy to give into effusive and repetitive speech. It’s less forgivable in writing.

There are many reasons why writing is redundant. Some insert unnecessary words or phrases because that’s what they’re used to hearing (e.g., the phrase “last and final,”). Others think using a lot of words makes them sound more polished. For example, when sending an email to one’s boss, a person might say “due to the fact” when “because” would suffice.

Others are simply looking to reach a certain word count and, in such cases, they turn to a writer’s lazy fall back: fluff.

But fear not, there’s hope. Below are a few tips you can use to help tighten up your wordplay and eliminate redundancy.

1. Eliminate redundant pairs

When the first word in a pair has almost the same meaning as the second, choose one.

Examples of redundant pairs include: each and every, whole entire, full and complete, true and accurate, always and forever, etc.

Example: My aunt Sophia ate the whole entire tray of brownies at the picnic.

Revision: My aunt Sophia ate the entire tray of brownies at the picnic.

2. Delete unnecessary qualifiers

Often, people use unnecessary qualifiers that really aren’t necessary (such as “really” in this sentence). Deleting these qualifiers can often eliminate a few words per sentence, which may not sound like much, but they add up.

Common qualifiers include: actually, really, probably, very definitely, kind of, extremely.

Example: I actually have no idea who turned off the lights in the office.

Revision: I have no idea who turned off the lights in the office.

3. Replace a phrase with a word

Many phrases commonly used in conversations can be replaced by single words. These phrases appear in writing that calls for a formal tone, but instead of adding to the writer’s intended meaning, they detract from it.

Common phrases like “due to the fact that,” “in light of the fact that” and “considering the fact that” can all be replaced with “because,” “since,” or “why.” “It is necessary that” and “cannot be avoided” can both be replaced by “must” or “should.”

Example: Since it is necessary that you be home by eleven o’clock, we should leave before the traffic picks up.

Revision: Since you must be home by eleven o’clock, we should leave before the traffic picks up.

4. Identify negatives and change them to positives

Expressing ideas in the negative form forces the writer to use an extra word and the reader to work harder. Simplify the process by restating the sentiment in the positive form. It eliminates extraneous words and allows the reader to quickly grasp what’s being conveyed.

Example: If you have not completed the homework assignment, you cannot go outside to the playground for recess.

Revision: Students who have completed the homework assignment can go outside to the playground for recess.

See if you can implement some of these tips into your writing to eliminate redundancy and make your communication more reader-friendly.

Derrick Mitcham is the Senior Writer within Ketchum’s Corporate Communications team. He has close to 10 years of experience in the broadcast industry, both on air and behind the scenes. His interests include reading, exercising, cooking and writing.