By Brady Edwards
As writers, we often get down on ourselves—I forgot to input a header and page numbers, I completely spaced including the works cited page, my thesis isn’t argumentative enough—however, such thinking often hinders our ability to see our growth as crafters of language. To flip the script on this negativity, I’ve decided to write about the positive side of one aspect of writing—redundancy.
The Bedford Handbook defines redundancy in this way: “Writers often repeat themselves unnecessarily, thinking that expressions such as cooperate together, yellow in color, or basic essentials add emphasis to their writing. In reality, such redundancies do just the opposite. There is no need to say the same thing twice” (Hacker & Sommers, 2010, p. 198). While all of this is true, there’s another way to think about what redundancy actually means and how we can use it consciously in our writing process.
To begin a piece of writing, I often start with a prompt. Such a way of beginning simply gets my creative juices going. During this kind of activity, I worry very little about repeating myself. The prompt is merely to get words on the page. After I’ve completed this exercise, either later that day or later in the week, I come back to what I wrote. I look for main ideas and try to organize the work in the way that makes the most sense to me. At this point, I begin to look for redundancies, which is why I define redundancy by the repetition of certain words or ideas in an unorganized manner. This happens to everyone and can be a little frustrating. However, such occurrences don’t have to get us down. Instead, these redundancies might teach us things about our own writing practices.
- Redundancies might show us that we really care about a certain topic/idea and want to focus on it in our project.
- Redundancies hint to us that we don’t know enough about a particular topic.
Instead of pointing out a flaw in our writing process, redundancies can help us understand that we’ve hit upon a topic that piques our interest or a topic where more research or knowledge is needed to further our current project. Perhaps this why Joseph Williams (2005) points out that “Some teachers think any redundancy signals mental laziness. But we almost inevitably fall into redundancy when we write about a subject that we are just learning” (p. 125). Hopefully, as we learn more about our chosen topics, our need to repeat ourselves will diminish. Similarly, once we understand that we are interested in a particular topic, our thinking on it should become more profound. As we begin to contemplate a topic from different perspectives, we are more able to share our thoughts and ideas about it in original ways.
If you’ve noticed that redundancy has occasionally crept into your writing—I think we’ve all been there—here are some steps to address it.
- Delete meaningless words.
- Delete doubled words.
- Delete what readers can infer.
- Replace a phrase with a word.
- Change negatives to affirmatives.
(Williams, 2005, pp. 112-116)
These recommendations might sound trite, but they work. Never forget that writing is a recursive act and that good writing requires revision. Avoiding redundancy and (more importantly) learning from it is part of that revision process.
Remember, don’t panic. Instead of thinking that redundancy is the mark of a poor paper, adjust your thinking to accept the fact that redundancy can be one way that your mind tries to tell you to focus in on a topic because it matters to you and to never stop learning about it.
Hacker, D. & Sommers, N. (2010). The Bedford handbook (8th ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Williams, J. M. (2005). Style: Ten lessons in clarity and grace. New York: Pearson Longman.