“From the Department of Redundancy Department”

editingLast week, while grading the first sets of essays in my writing classes, I noticed that many of the papers contained overly long sentences with grammatical structures that snapped under their weight. As a result, I decided my students and I would need to have a conversation about the importance of being concise.

For a number of reasons, though, it is difficult to describe how one goes about being crisp in one’s writing. To begin, the word “concise” means different things to different people, so getting agreement on a definition is no easy task. And, more and more I am coming to see that what appears superfluous to one writer might be essential to another.

Take, for example, my having just written, “And, more and more I am coming to see that….” Of course I could have simply said, “I see that….” To me, however, there is a certain rhythm to the original, which I am entitled to admire  :), and there is also a sense I wish to convey by using the present progressive tense that I have come slowly to this understanding.

Perhaps we can agree, though, that there are obvious redundancies to avoid in our writing, and rooting them out might be a good way to develop sensitivity towards the more subtle excesses. Here, then, is a list of common superfluities:

  • Actual fact: By definition a fact is something that “is indisputably [or actually] the case,” so just the word “fact” will suffice.
  • Added bonus: A “bonus” is something that is extra or added, so “added” can be deleted.
  • Advance planning: “Planning” is something we do in advance. No?
  • At the present time: When we say “at present” we mean at this time, so we can just say “at present.” We can be even more concise and say, “Now.”
  • End result: If you think about it, a result is something that happens at the end, so the word “end” is unnecessary.
  • Enter in: When you enter a place, you go into that place, so “in” is redundant.
  • Past history: There is no need for the word “past.” In the known universe, history is something that is always in the past. Right?
  • Revert back: When something “reverts” it returns to a previous state, so “back” is unnecessary.
  • Still remains: This is a phrase I have been known to use, and more than once, but it is redundant: If something remains, it is still there, so out with “still.”
  • Unexpected surprise: If you expected a surprise, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
  • Unintentional mistake: If we make a mistake, we make it unintentionally, so just “mistake” will do.
  • Written down: I am often guilty of this redundancy. Something that is written is something that is written down. “Written” is all we need to say, then.

So now you know.

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4 thoughts on ““From the Department of Redundancy Department”

  1. Hi Leslie, Thanks for the list! I can always use a good reminder. Oh, I absolutely agree with you. It’s tough trying to communicate good writing habits,i.e., conciseness! To tell the truth, I always had the sinking feeling that teaching freshman composition was damaging to my own writing skills. Isn’t that sad? But the constant grading of fifty to sixty 300 word essays a week may be injurious to one’s writing health, LOL. I think what may have kept me on balance was constantly reading Victorian novelists!

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    • Yes, teaching writing can be harmful to our writing health! I loved the Victorians, too — especially Browning, Hardy, and Hopkins — but maybe it was because I loved the teacher who introduced me to Victorian literature :). For better or worse, teachers can have a profound impact on our lives.

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      • I agree with you, most authors I still love to read are those whom some teacher introduced me years ago. Even now when I think back on life changing events, that moment seems to wind up with my being in front of a teacher! And as you mentioned, unfortunately there’s the flip side. Two incidents: I was still teaching, but sliding towards retirement. I was getting a cup of coffee on the way to work–local 7-11 store. A student from years back was at the counter. She turned and spoke. “Hey I was in your Humanities class. D’you remember me?” Of course I didn’t, but I replied that I was glad to see her. She stared at me then blared out. “I didn’t learn goddamn thing in your class!” Well, the conversation went downhill from there. Day ruined.
        Incident two: I was at a wine shop helping one of my faculty buy wine for his upcoming wedding reception. A state trooper from Texas drove up and got of his car. He stopped, stared and then said, “Hey, doc, how you doin?” I told him I was great. I was holding a case of booze so felt a bit awkward. He was wearing his uniform and all. He backed up, leaned against his car with arms crossed and said. “I took your lit class. You changed my life.” Whoa! Day made! Now the first incident which actually occurred first, made the second incident even nicer. I remember driving back home after a bottle of wine–.thinking of all of those old school teachers who had no idea of the absolute impact they had on my mental and spiritual life. Sorry to go on and on. Oh, my Victorian prof was a bit negative. He told us we were a bunch of idiots. We didn’t care though.We called him Shakespeare because he had a receding hairline with a large sloping forehead. But to this day, because of ol Shakespeare, I love Browning!

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