“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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