Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ruminations on Redundancy

Or, Allow Myself to Repeat Myself...

When I was in university, one of the English professors had practically papered his office door with comics and jokes that had grammatical, composition, or literary themes.

(One of my favorites, which I spent far too much time looking for online in the futile hope that I could link to it here, was a Sunday "Shoe" strip. In it, as I recall, Shoe, the crochety old bird, is nursing a drink at a bar. Something out of frame periodically bellows: "Evermore!... No, that's not right... Livermore! No.... Fillmore!" Shoe and the bartender resignedly endure the outcries. "No, no, no," the speaker mumbles. "It's 'never' something... Nevermind!"

The frame expands to include a massive -- deeply pickled -- black bird sitting at the bar. Shoe looks at the bartender and says, "I see the Raven's drunk again," just as the black bird belts out: "NEVERTHELESH!")

Anyway -- in addition to Poe-inspired humor, the professor's door boasted the following sign:

"Department of Redundancy Department"

For some reason, whenever I encounter redundancies within a project, I cannot help but "see" that sign.

Redundancy -- unnecessary repetition -- is a surprisingly common weakness that often occurs in otherwise polished manuscripts. As with any flaw, the first step toward elimination is recognition. Some examples:
Redundant Cat Repeats Himself

* He spoke to her and asked…

* He thought to himself…

* The information was posted on their website for viewing…

* We discovered in our investigation…

* “You’re right,” he agreed.

* Ideally, the best you can do is...

* I have a friend of mine...

See? Repetitiously redundant wording.

Several things can contribute to redundancy, including:

* Trying to explain a step-by-step procedure so the reader is assured of "do it yourself" success.

* Combining different edits of a manuscript.

* Forgetting what a word actually means.

* Attempting to be overly precise.

* Being too close, or too familiar with the project.

* Working on too tight a deadline that does not allow time for a clear, objective reading.

Redundant Nevermore

Some ways to recognize redundancy when you see it:

* The same word or phrase shows up repeatedly in a sentence, paragraph, or section.

* Similar (or identical) beginning and ending sentences within a paragraph.

* Two or more words that mean the same thing within the same sentence.

* Using words to describe what a character's actions already convey. (He nodded in agreement...)

Correcting a redundancy once you find it is rarely difficult. Simply excise all but the most important reference in the offending passage. Not only will this make your writing tighter, but it will also significantly improve your ability to engage your audience's attention -- and keep it.


Anonymous said...

Great post. It's really something I never think about in the midst of writing, especially when a good flow is achieved.

The only time I think this type of redundancy is acceptable though, is when it's used during dialogue since people generally don't speak in perfectly sensible sentences all the time.

Anonymous said...

This was instructive, educational, and informative without being repetitious, redundant, or verbose.

Hee hee. I love Poe, Shoe comics, AND your examples. I actually thought this was very funny and useful.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Diego: You are, of course, spot on about redundancy in dialogue being acceptable, and even desirable, if it illuminates a particular character trait. Austin Powers comes to mind: "Allow myself to introduce... myself." ;)

aftergadget: Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. Luck to you in your writing!

Gale Martin said...

Very good stuff, Ami. Every writer who is editing needs to pay more attention to this issue.