“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.


“6 grammar lovers you should follow on Twitter” (from grammarly blog)

1. Buzzfeed Style Guide, @styleguide

Buzzfeed Style Guide Tweet Sample

The Twitter account of Buzzfeed’s Style Guide is a mix of humor, gifs, and grammar tips.

2. Carol Fisher Saller, @SubvCopyEd

Subversive Copy Editor Tweet Sample

Carol Fisher Saller is a professional copy editor, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style’s Q&A section, and a published author. Follow her on Twitter for helpful writing tips and answers to your most pressing grammatical questions.

3. AP Stylebook @APStylebook

AP Stylebook Tweet Sample

The official Twitter account of the AP Stylebook tweets out spelling, grammar, and punctuation tips like this one. Follow them to stay up to date on all things related to style.

4. Ben Zimmer, @bgzimmer

Ben Zimmer Tweet Sample

Ben Zimmer is a linguist and writer who is in love with the written word. Follow him to inject a nonstop stream of interesting articles and thoughts about language into your Twitter feed.

5. The Oxford English Dictionary @OED

OED Tweet Sample

Follow the Oxford English Dictionary to get your vocabulary fix. They tweet a “word of the day” each day so you can learn something new each time you scroll through your Twitter feed.

6. Grammar Monkeys, @GrammarMonkeys

Grammar Monkeys Tweet Sample

Grammar Monkeys tweets out hilarious grammar gaffes, headline fails, cartoons, and other treats for grammar lovers.