This post looks at redundancy in writing: what it is, why you should avoid it, whether it’s always a bad thing, and how to identify it in your writing. It also includes a list of common examples of redundancy.
Etymology: from Latin redundant, redundāns, present participle of redundāre - to overflow
What is redundancy?
Redundancy in writing is the unnecessary repetition or duplication of words, phrases, sentences, ideas and information etc. - anything that could be omitted without loss of significance or meaning.
A simple example would be something like:
We also went to Cambodia too.
also and too have the same meaning and therefore one of those words is redundant. We can omit one of them without losing any meaning.
What potential problems does redundancy cause?
"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." – French writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Superfluous words make your writing less succinct. They’re distracting for your reader and can confuse meaning. Words and information that add unnecessary length, but nothing else, simply make your writing longer while contributing nothing to its quality.
Is redundancy always a bad thing?
Although the word redundancy carries negative connotations, and as we’ve seen it can affect the quality of your writing, redundancy/repetition is also a linguistically sound way of showing emphasis in your writing.
It can be used for rhetorical effect to draw your readers attention to certain words, ideas, and information.
It’s also useful for reducing the scope for readers to misunderstand or misinterpret your words. And although it’s more common to use repetition in speech, where the possibility for a listener to misunderstand is greater than for a reader, repetition in writing is still a useful tactic.
If a message is entirely without redundancy, if it contains ONLY that which is strictly necessary, it’s easy to lose or radically change the meaning in that message when even a minor error is made.
And last but not least, redundancy can help with the rhythm of your sentences making your writing easier to read.
Examples of redundancy
Below are some common examples of redundant words. Some have a brief explanation, but in general no explanations are needed because the redundancy is clear.
1. new innovation – an innovation is a new idea or product etc. so there is no need to add the word new
A new innovation designed to improve surgical and medical procedures...
An innovation designed to improve surgical and medical procedures …
2. advance warning - a warning is already advance notification about something; the word advance is superfluous here
3. blend together
4. briefly summarize
5. close proximity
6. collaborate together
7. completely finished
8. consensus of opinion
9. end result
10. evolve over time
11. exactly the same
12. free gift – a gift is already something given free of charge
13. longer or shorter in length – longer or shorter
14. past history – we already know history is something that occurred in the past
15. plan ahead - planning is already preparation for future events and outcomes
16. postpone until later - to postpone is to put off until a later date
17. repeat again – we only need *repeat* here
18. revert back to – and here we only need *revert*
19. unexpected surprise – a surprise is something that happens unexpectedly
20. 6.00 a.m. in the morning - a.m. already tells your reader it’s in the morning
21. A total of fifty runners took part in the marathon. “A total of” is superfluous. “Fifty runners took part in the marathon” is succinct.
Many of these phrases - like free gift and end result - are common enough that we now don’t give them a second thought.
The ubiquitous free gift is so familiar as to be largely unquestioned (except perhaps among the slightly more pedantic). And I think it’s now even expected that the word ‘free’ is added to avoid any doubt that something is free of charge.
Redundant acronym phrases
You’ve probably heard people say “PIN number”, or even said it yourself. I know I have!
The acronym PIN stands for Personal Identification Number – the numerical code used in electronic financial transactions. So, “PIN number” - which translates as personal identification number number - is a good example of redundancy.
ATM machine - automatic teller machine machine - is another good example.
A redundancy of this type is known as a redundant acronym phrase (RAP), and its use is known as redundant acronym syndrome (RAS). Or, self-referentially, as an “RAP phrase” and “RAS syndrome”!
Other RAPs include:
- HIV virus - human immunodeficiency virus virus
- LAN network - local area network network
- LCD display - liquid crystal display display
The above are just a few examples of redundancy, but they should give you an idea of what to look out for in your writing.
How to find examples of redundancy in your writing
Check your work for potential redundancies with online proofreading software which will flag up any repetition for you to check and edit if necessary.
You can also go through your finished document yourself using proofreading techniques to check for superfluous content that can be cut out or improved.
An excellent way to identify redundancy is to read your work out loud. Any instances of repetition or duplication should be obvious.
As you’re proofreading, consider whether you really do need technically redundant words for emphasis. And whether repeated information could be removed without affecting your meaning.