Reducing Repetition in Your Writing Style

Overview

Repetitiveness is tedious for the reader, as it is monotonous. It often comes along with being wordy. A few simple corrections will result in reducing repetition in your writing style. They can make your compositions leaner, clearer, and more professional.

Repetition (repeating words or phrases) is not necessarily a bad thing. Education (and parenting!), for example, depend upon repeating instructions and lessons. We commonly use repetition for emphasis. Songs use repetition to deliver the “hook.” For instance, in most songwriting, the verses change, but the hook or chorus is repeated. Like with, say, Taylor Swift’s 1989 hit, “Shake It Off”:

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, baby
I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
Shake it off, I shake it off

You can watch it here, if you care to (above lines are sung about 1:15): Taylor Swift – Shake it off LIVE

Repetition works because it’s memorable and calls attention to itself. But it doesn’t work when it’s overused – because it calls attention to itself. 

Problem

Here’s part of a paragraph from a draft research paper, where the style got into a bind. Note the bolded words.

Additionally, many studies have been done to figure out a way to reduce recidivism rates.  One such study by the Bureau of Justice states, “we find that correctional education would be expected to reduce three-year re-arrest and reincarceration rates by 13.2 and 13.8 percentage points, respectively”. (Davis, et al. p. 34) One of the more comprehensive studies is The Rand Study. They compiled several different studies to show several outcomes. It states, “Across 32 years of empirical studies on the effects of correctional education with analyses ranging in methodological quality and rigor, on average, the odds of recidivating among inmates receiving correctional education are 64 percent of the odds of recidivating among inmates not receiving correctional education”. (Davis, et al. p. 29)

There’s some other repetition: the word “one” and the word “several,” for example. But let’s hone in on the six repeats of “study” and “studies” in five sentences. The writer clearly wants to introduce the sources with a good word for research, “study,” but the word also appears in the title of the research as well as in a quote, resulting in a monotonous sound and a lack of variation.

By the way, this repetitiveness is probably unconscious. In my own writing, I’ll be repetitive as well when I’m drafting, on other words, when laying down my initial ideas in rougher style. So I look at repetitiveness as normal in drafting (especially draft 0), but something you want to polish in revision.  That means recognizing the problem and knowing how to revise it. 

Solution

Often, deletion is the easiest way to solve the problem. Here are the sentences again, listed separately, with quick solutions next to them (other small errors have not been corrected, such as MLA form and punctuation). 

DRAFTREVISION
Additionally, many studies have been done to figure out a way to reduce recidivism rates.  No change. 
One such study by the Bureau of Justice states, “we find that correctional education would be expected to reduce three-year re-arrest and reincarceration rates by 13.2 and 13.8 percentage points, respectively”. (Davis, et al. p. 34)For example, The Bureau of Justice states, “we find that correctional education would be expected to reduce three-year re-arrest and reincarceration rates by 13.2 and 13.8 percentage points, respectively”. (Davis, et al. p. 34)
One of the more comprehensive studies is The Rand Study. They compiled several different studies to show several outcomes.The Rand Corporation compiled 
“Across 32 years of empirical studies on the effects of correctional education with analyses ranging in methodological quality and rigor, on average, the odds of recidivating among inmates receiving correctional education are 64 percent of the odds of recidivating among inmates not receiving correctional education”. (Davis, et al. p. 29)“32 years of empirical studies on the effects of correctional education with analyses ranging in methodological quality and rigor.” It concluded, “on average, the odds of recidivating among inmates receiving correctional education are 64 percent of the odds of recidivating among inmates not receiving correctional education”. (Davis, et al. p. 29)

In this case, not only can the word be eliminated, but whole phrases and sentences, and the quote from the Rand study left to speak for itself. Let’s look at the revision again in paragraph format:

Additionally, many studies have been done to figure out a way to reduce recidivism rates. For example, The Bureau of Justice states, “we find that correctional education would be expected to reduce three-year re-arrest and reincarceration rates by 13.2 and 13.8 percentage points, respectively”. (Davis, et al. p. 34) The Rand Corporation compiled “32 years of empirical studies on the effects of correctional education with analyses ranging in methodological quality and rigor.” It concluded, “on average, the odds of recidivating among inmates receiving correctional education are 64 percent of the odds of recidivating among inmates not receiving correctional education”. (Davis, et al. p. 29)

Wielding your editing skills like a scalpel and a suture needle, with a few simple cuts and some stitching together, not only is the redundancy eliminated (four of six repeats), but the results are clearer and the style on the way to becoming more professional, efficient, and lean. 

If you enjoyed Reducing Repetition in Your Writing Style, you might enjoy my lesson, “Better Signal Phrases for Research Writing.”

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, you can help support maintaining lessons on this site through the paypal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

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