Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Redundancy Trouble

Have you ever gotten a free gift? Probably you have. But here’s a better question: have you ever gotten a gift that wasn’t free? Has anyone ever asked you to haul out your wallet around the Christmas tree or pony up before you open your birthday presents? No. If it’s not free, it isn’t a gift at all!

The idea of being free is included in the word ‘gift.’ So there’s no reason to specify a ‘free gift’ – or, for that matter, a ‘foreign immigrant,’ an ‘unknown stranger,’ or an appointment at ‘9 A.M. in the morning.’ All these phrases are redundant: they say the same thing twice.

Redundancy makes your writing less effective because it wastes the reader’s time and attention rereading information that you’ve already provided. In this lesson, you’ll learn why you might fall into the redundancy trap and how to get out of it.

Causes of Redundancy

Before learning how to avoid redundancy, let’s look at the reasons why it sneaks into your writing in the first place:

  • You write without paying attention. Redundancy is very common in everyday language. Just for example, take the phrase ‘last and final.’ ‘Last’ and ‘final’ mean exactly the same thing, so this is completely redundant, but you hear it all the time. If you just start writing without paying attention, you’re likely to use redundant phrases like this without noticing them just because that’s what you’re used to hearing.
  • You’re trying to sound official. Many people use redundant phrases in their formal writing because they think that using a lot of words makes them sound more important. For example, when they’re writing an email to their boss, they’ll say something like ‘at the present moment in time’ instead of just using ‘now.’
  • You’re trying to sound emphatic. If you’re really driving home a point, redundant expressions can seem like a good way to add weight or power to your sentences. Just think of advertising: how many ‘added bonuses’ have you seen in your life?
  • You’re trying to fill a word count. What do you do when you have to turn in 1,000 words but you’re done writing at 800? Add fluff! Don’t lie; you know you’ve done it, too.

Avoiding Redundancy

Now you know why redundant phrases might be sneaking up on you. But regardless of the reason why they’re there, it’s time to learn how to avoid them.

  • Enlist some help. It’s hard for all of us to spot our own verbal tics. Have a friend or teacher read a few pieces of your writing and underline redundant phrases.
  • Go on the offensive. Keep a list of the redundant phrases you commonly use near your computer, and do a quick search for each when you’re revising your writing. Eventually, you’ll become so aware of them that you’ll stop yourself before they ever make it onto the page.
  • Impress them with concision. Piling up unnecessary words doesn’t actually make you sound official or important. In formal writing, clarity and precision are much more impressive than a barrage of redundant phrases that pull the reader’s attention away from your main point. Have an interesting or useful point, express it as clearly as possible, and then stop.
  • Try other ways to show emphasis. One striking metaphor or vivid verb will do more good than a heap of adjectives. Alternately, use sentence or paragraph length to emphasize certain parts of your writing. For example, one short but hard-hitting conclusion sentence after a long and complicated paragraph can pack a huge punch.
  • When in doubt, cut it out. Every time you use an adjective, adverb, or description, make sure it tells the reader something they wouldn’t otherwise know. If you have to debate it, it’s probably redundant.
  • Write more content, not more fluff. Word counts are pretty annoying, especially when you’ve said everything you had to say but you’re still under. Instead of writing more fluff, show your draft to someone else, and ask them what questions or objections they have – then address those in your remaining words.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you learned about redundancy: what it is, why it might creep into your essays and other writing, and how to defeat it. Redundant expressions, like ‘six years of age’ or ‘three P.M. in the afternoon,’ are phrases that repeat the same information unnecessarily. This dilutes the strength of your writing, making it less effective.

You might end up using redundant language if you write without choosing your words carefully, if you’re trying to sound emphatic or important, or if you’re just filling space for your word count. But there’s always a better way:

  • Enlist some help in identifying the redundant phrases you commonly use so you can actively search them out and get rid of them.
  • Remember that concise writing is more important than bloated paragraphs full of redundant expressions.
  • Use vivid images or sentence length for emphasis, instead of repeating yourself.
  • Meet your word counts by adding content, not fluff.

Ready to test your mettle? Try out five sentences in the quiz questions.

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