3 targets for mitigating repetition

Lists and quote intros are laden with extraneous words. Wield your paring knife accordingly.

Crumpled notes one is yellow

Here’s an easy way to trim your text: Cut the repetition.

Some writers repeat things over and over, again and again, ad nauseam, and then they go back to reinforce and reiterate the initial point they originally made in the first place.

Annoying, no? Yet many business blog posts are crammed with such transgressions. Once you see the problem, it’s simple to fix.

Let’s focus on a few areas where repetitions sprout like mushrooms:

Quote lead-ins

Frequently a setup for quoted matter will use the language offered in the quote itself:

Company CEO J. Maunderton Blathersnoot predicted the new product line would make waves throughout the industry.

“This new product line will make waves throughout the industry,” Blathersnoot predicted.

How can we avoid this? Lay the foundation for the quote:

The sector could be headed for a seismic shift.

“This new product line will make waves throughout the industry,” company CEO J. Maunderton Blathersnoot predicted.

Rhetorical questions, used in moderation, work well, too:

Is the sector headed for a seismic shift?

“This new product line will make waves throughout the industry,” company CEO J. Maunderton Blathersnoot predicted.

Variations on a theme help you hold readers’ interest.

Subject matter

Let context do the work. If your topic is social media marketing—or unicycling through fiery hoops (perhaps an equally arduous assignment)—establish that focus in the headline and opening lines of your piece. After that, limit the appearance of the phrase “social media marketing.” Give readers credit for the ability to retain your post’s central idea.

Of course, “social media marketing” is a specific business component, so finding a synonym is not a viable option. Still, subbing out “social media sites” in favor of “online platforms” or even “digital networks” affords you options. Just don’t go overboard.

Consider the old journalism joke about the writer who was told to avoid repeating words, so on second reference instead of writing “banana” he opted for “elongated yellow fruit.” Sometimes the remedy is worse than the malady.

Step-by-step lists

When writers guide readers along a progression, a sequence is implicit. Numbering the steps in that sequence is sufficient, yet all too often we see this (we’ll use developing a branded video as an example):

  1. Identify your audience. The first thing you must do is identify your audience.

The numeral 1 signifies that this is the first thing to do, and “Identify your audience” doesn’t warrant repeating. Instead, elaborate on the directive:

  1. Identify your audience. Establish demographic or geographic parameters, for example.

That way, you avoid restating the point in favor of offering valuable particulars. (You’ll also avoid having readers snarl, “Yes, I know; you just said that.”)

Here’s another common misstep:

  1. Plan a storyline. After you have identified your audience,  the second step is to plan your storyline.

So, after the instruction offered in step No. 1 comes the second step? Really? How fascinating. Who would have thought?

The guidance about planning a storyline might include whether it will be humorous or dramatic, who the protagonist(s) will be, its length, locations and other key considerations.

  1. Create a storyboard. The next step is to create a storyboard.

Noticing a pattern here? It’s so obvious and  easy to fix (by using the Delete key), yet it’s pervasive.

Better would be to explain what a storyboard is and how it’s used.

  1. Create a storyboard. This visual plan helps your team members envision the arc of the video. It could be hand-drawn or employ stock photos; it might depict the narrative shot by shot, or simply scene by scene.

Fleshing out the basic steps helps readers understand without bogging them down in extraneous words. Your objective, after all, is to convey information thoroughly yet concisely.

For the final step, many writers feel compelled to play train conductor and announce (twice, of course) that readers have reached the end of the line:

  1. Last, promote your video on social media. The last step is to promote your video on social media.

Any sentient being can see that the list is wrapping up, so “last” (or, worse, “lastly”) is unnecessary.

People have an uncanny sense that tells them, when they see no more words, that they should stop reading.


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