Avoid Word Repetition to Improve Writing

Have you ever finished writing for the association magazine and realized you used the same word 22 times in a 449-word article? It happens to the best of us. [See Editor’s note at end of article.] Using the same word more than once is not forbidden by the all-knowing writing gurus, but too much repetition can make writing awkward and distracting to readers.

One long-used way to eliminate repetition is the use of elegant variation. This is the use of other words or descriptive phrases on second references to the original word. Sounds good but can make the writing even more awkward than just repeating the first word. Second Mentions, a Twitter account that is a collector of EVs from sources all over the world has some excellent examples of humorous EVs:

  • Tomatoes thrown at a politician in protest are “squishy missiles.”
  • Tea is referred to as “the bitter brown infusion” in a London publication.
  • Cheese becomes “the popular dairy product.”
  • Lawn is replaced with “verdant green carpet.”

The Twitter account is fun to read, but inserting elaborate phrases to always replace “association,” “member,” or “event” is not practical or recommended by most writing experts. However, there are ways to minimize repetition. Before a co-worker sends the article back with all repeated words highlighted and a note to avoid using the word too often, take a look at the following tips:

  1. Read your work aloud. This will help you avoid unintentional repetition because it is easy to hear awkward, repeated sounds or other unintended effects.
  2. Read your work backward. Start reading with the last sentence of a paragraph, page, or chapter, then go to the previous sentence and continue. It will make no sense, but you can focus more on each sentence.
  3. Consult a thesaurus. When you find a repeated word you can try rearranging the sentence to eliminate it, or you can plug a different word into the sentence. If you need inspiration for a different word, check a thesaurus.
  4. Choose your battles. The more common the word, the more leeway you have in repeating it. Words like “to,” “the,” and “word” can be repeated more often than “elegant variation,” “unintended,” or “minimize.”
  5. The pronoun is your friend. Many times, a word that occurs twice in one sentence or in two sentences that follow each other can be replaced with “it,” “she,” and “he.” This helps you avoid repeating proper names multiple times in a paragraph.
  6. Word repetition can be beneficial. In some cases, the repetition of a word can add emphasis and create a strong rhythm in writing. The key is to use it deliberately, consciously, and strategically. Example: The more common the word, the more leeway you have in repeating it.

[Editor’s note: Yes, “word” was used 22 times in this article. Let us know which synonym could have been used to eliminate the repetition: term, element of writing, sentence component, turn of phrase or something else. Send your suggestions (serious and fun) to Sigrund Shoemaker at sigrund@llmpubs.com. We’ll run the results in a future article.]

For more information (and for fun), check out 3 Tips for Avoiding Word Repetition, 5 Ways to Deal With Word Repetition and The Twitter Account That Collects Awkward, Amusing Writing.