Tips from an editor #1: Avoid redundancy

Hello! I’m an editor. I work on all sorts texts, from novels to essays to academic textbooks. In this series, I will show you the most common problems I encounter, so you can avoid making the same mistakes in your own writing.

Redundancy is something I come across quite often when I’m editing. By redundancy I mean those words and phrases that don’t add anything to a sentence. At best they just make the sentence longer; at worst they repeat something the reader has already read.

Let me give you a few examples:

“In the case of psychopaths, they often lack empathy.”

“For the narcissist, he only considers his own feelings.”

“When it comes to identifying a bully, there are many techniques you can use to identify a bully.”

The last example is the most obvious: the second half of the sentence very clearly repeats what was said in the first half. The other examples are more subtle, but you can still see that there are repeated (i.e. redundant) elements in both halves of each sentence: ‘they’ refers to ‘psychopaths’, ‘he’ refers to ‘the narcissist’. All those extra words and they aren’t adding anything.

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But why should a writer avoid redundancy? Because you want to make life as easy as possible for your reader in order to keep them reading. When we read a sentence and see a word like ‘they’ or ‘it’, we have do a little extra work to figure out what it is referring to. If the sentence is clear, this is very easy and the reader won’t even notice they are doing it. (In fact, you just did it in that last sentence. And that one.) If the sentence is more complicated, the reader can get confused.

But even if the sentence is quite straightforward (as with the examples above), there’s no need to introduce an extra layer of complexity by writing like this. Why name the thing you are talking about, then refer to it again as ‘it’? Why not simplify things and let your reader travel more easily through the text?

Here is how I would edit the examples above:

“Psychopaths often lack empathy.”

“The narcissist only considers his own feelings.”

“There are many techniques you can use to identify a bully.”

Can you see how much clearer these sentences are now? How much easier to read? Aim for clarity in your writing and avoid redundancy. There’s no need to make life more difficult for your reader, your editor, or yourself.

Do you need a professional editor to polish your writing for you? Contact me to find out how I can help.

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