Apr 24

Avoid Repetition of Words and Improve Your Writing

Avoid Repetition of Words and Improve your Writing


A simple check, when editing, will ensure that you avoid repetition of words, and improve your writing.
Using the same word, several times close together in a text is irritating on the eye, and suggests a lack of appropriate vocabulary.

Even in published novels you can find examples which have slipped through and it is a fact that when we write quickly, to get our ideas down, it is very common to find, on reading it through that we are guilty of this simple ‘error’ in first drafts. It is not always avoidable and what we have written may be grammatically correct but can look clumsy and distract the reader.

Eg (Spotted in a published novel):

‘Her long silky black hair swayed around her waist, and she shook her head to enhance the effect.
The red dress she wore enhanced her curves…..’

There is nothing technically wrong but the use of the same verb, ‘to enhance’ twice, so close together is not artistically pleasing.

People tend to do this in speech all the time. If the topic is ‘things that enhance’ someone’s attractiveness then we might use it more than once while discussing them, which is probably why we tend not to notice ourselves doing it in a first draft.
Sometimes the simple solution is just to substitute another word, maybe with judicious use of a thesaurus. It may be better to reconstruct one or more sentences to avoid the repetition and at the same time improve the text, perhaps finding a stronger verb or a more appropriate adjective in the process.

Look at this example:

The Grave Digger
The cold rain dribbled down inside the collar of Saul’s shabby overcoat, so old it no longer offered much protection.
He looked to the left at the bundle, wrapped in old sacks on the ground at his side. He was tired, his old bones protesting at the unaccustomed physical effort.

The unimaginative, repeated use of the word ‘old’, three times in such a short passage, is further exacerbated by the rhyming word ‘cold’, which looks so similar at first glance.

When writing, and making up the story as you go along, it does not stand out. As a piece written in a class exercise, when read out to the group it is also less obvious, partly because the listener is hearing the ‘story’ for the first time and focusing on that.
Also the word has varying stress in oral presentation; In the first instance the word ‘old’ would be stressed as it is piece of factual information about the coat.
In the second sentence ‘socks’ and ‘bones’ would be stressed orally, not the adjective ‘old’.
It is when you see it written that the repeated word looks so overused and dull.

A similar thing occurs when the pronoun ‘he’, or ‘she’, is used repeatedly, particularly at the beginning of a sentence. It looks even worse if it is ‘I’ that starts seven sentences in a row!


Category: Advice and Info. Tags:Vocabulary,Practice,Writing Prose,Revising, Power of words,Words

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