by Lesley-Anne Longo
Published at 2018-04-25
One of our more popular blogs is 3 Ways to Avoid Repetition in Writing, in which I discus how repetition in writing can disengage your reader from the flow of your work. In this follow-up blog, I add three more strategies for avoiding repetitive words and phrases that can help you write clear and engaging prose.
This probably seems counter-productive to some of you, but in many cases, limiting your research can be a big help down the line if you are trying to avoid repetition in writing. Having a good amount of research to prove your case or back up your arguments is good, but overloading yourself with research to somehow work into your writing is setting yourself up for a struggle that is unnecessary. Think of it this way: If you have three points that prove your case really well, ask yourself if you really need to add more to your outline. If you find you have enough evidence to prove your point, then stop researching and move on to writing. If you keep piling on more and more case studies, arguments, and cited research to your work, that’s a lot of very similar information to include, much of which could end up being very repetitive. So, keep it as simple as possible: use enough research to support your argument or theory, but know when enough is enough.
Along the same vein as limiting your research, using a strong outline can be a very helpful guide in avoiding repetitive writing. Outlines aid in the process of writing by allowing you to organize your ideas so that they can be presented logically, helping you illustrate the relationships between ideas or arguments in your work, and constructing an ordered overall view of your writing. By creating an outline, you can group all your related ideas/arguments together, and this makes it very easy to see where one section of your document may have become bloated with too much information (i.e., at risk of becoming repetitive), while another section is seeming a little bare-bones.
Already written your book/paper/essay/thesis? For help with “outlining” your work after writing as part of the editing process, check out our blog, Tidying-Up Your Academic Writing: The Magic of the Reverse Outline.
While the first two tips are helpful in terms of the “big picture” of the work, this tip will help you remove repetition in more detailed parts of your writing. An important first step is to vary the length of your sentences. For many writers, it is often very easy to create long, run-on sentences that continue for several lines or even make up a complete paragraph. This is not ideal in terms of making it easy on the reader. So, avoiding confusing run-on sentences is always a good idea.
However, this does not mean that avoiding long sentences at all times is the way to go, either. Long sentences, if they are well-constructed and straightforward, are perfectly fine to use, as long as you also use shorter sentences as well. A variety of sentence lengths avoids the feeling of repetition for the reader. For example:
Chris got out of bed. Chris got ready for school. Chris walked to school. Chris handed in his math project. Later, Chris ate lunch.
Using such short sentences not only feels very repetitive, it can force you to use certain words repetitively as well. Consider this correction:
Chris got out of bed and got ready for school. He walked to school, handed in his math project, and later in the day, ate lunch.
These two examples contain all the same elements, but the second example has two sentences of varying lengths, while the first example has five sentences, all short. Adding a variety of sentence lengths to your work keeps the reader involved and interested.
In addition to switching up your sentence lengths, try crafting a variety of paragraph lengths as well. Paragraphs can be almost any length, from just one sentence, to five, ten, or more. Certainly keep to the rule that each paragraph should contain its own idea or point, but try to make sure your paragraphs are different lengths to break up the text. Paragraph breaks give the reader a chance to take a break and absorb the ideas, and keeping paragraphs varying lengths can help your reader stay engaged. Think about it: have you ever read a paragraph that just dragged on and on, perhaps even for more than one full page? It’s easy to get lost in the text this way – use paragraphs wisely, and give your readers the breaks they need.
Using these tips (plus the ones from our first repetition blog) can really help you keep your writing free from repetitive elements, and keep it flowing well. Remember to stay mindful of the flow of both your work as a whole and the sentence and paragraph structures within it (again, where an outline truly shines), and you’ll be repetition-free in no time!