In this column, Vista provides practical tips to help you write clearly and concisely, including best practices for using Microsoft Word. Please leave suggestions for future posts in the comments. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss a tip!
Clearly written reports contain a minimum of repetition and unnecessary words. It’s often easier to spot these in someone else’s writing than it is to find them in your own. Asking yourself whether every word says something useful and unique is a good place to start.
Search for Similar Words in Written Reports
To avoid saying the same thing twice, hunt for words that are similar or for places where two words are doing the same work in the sentence.
For instance, “we will meet prior to the commencement of the project opening”, could be simplified to, “we will meet before the project opens.” You can quickly spot the redundancy of the first sentence by considering the similarity between “commencement” and “opening”. Both refer to a starting point of some kind, and you only need only one to tell your reader when the meeting will happen.
Another way to spot redundancy is to consider what happens when you take words away. In the sentence, “your burger comes complete with fries”, if you remove “your,” “burger,” “comes”, “with”, or “fries”, then the sentence sounds unfinished. But take out “complete” and you lose no essential information. (See our Omit Needless Words article for more tips.)
No Pleonasms Please
A “pleonasm” is two words put together that mean the same thing. Here are some examples: burning fire, cash money, null and void, cease and desist, etc. In engineering, we might refer to a study analysis, dangerous hazard, difficult challenge, or end result. Most of the time, you can remove one of the words and the other suffices.
For more examples and explanation of pleonasms, read this article on the NPR website.
Trash the Tautologies
“Tautologies” are similar to pleonasms. They occur when you repeat something or say it in a different way. You can do this for emphasis, to convey importance, or to add variety to your writing. However, most of the time it is unintentional and creates needless repetition. Here are some examples:
- The following are necessary requirements. (Requirements are always necessary.)
- We will present a short summary. (Summaries are short by definition.)
- In our opinion, we recommend… (If you’re recommending something, it must be your opinion.)
- We found new and innovative approaches. (“Innovative” means a new way of doing something.)
- Pre-planning is essential. (“Planning” is always done “pre” something.)
Check out this excellent list for more common tautologies.
You also commit tautologies when you repeat a word that is part of an acronym. Common examples include ATM machine, SIN number and CD-ROM disc. Engineering reports might refer to a P&ID diagram, CWP package or PDF format.
Redundancy Riles Readers
Searching for redundancies in your writing might take you a bit of time, but it saves time for your reader. Your message will get across quicker and more clearly as a result.
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