Repetitive writing is almost always bad writing.
That’s not to say that repetition can’t be used well to drive a point home. But if an author’s overall copy can be classified as repetitive, that’s typically not a complement. She should start thinking very hard about reanalyzing her word choices and presentation structure.
Repetitive writing can lose authors even their biggest fans. It can push on-the-fence people off the fence into the opposition’s field of thought. And it can turn the authors themselves into easy targets of ridicule.
For example, there’s this institution whose mission I support 100%. However, its writing standards are as dry as 10-day-old toast left out in a desert during the day.
I bought three of its little bathroom-reading booklets four years ago with every intention of devouring them. I was ready to learn!
But they weren’t ready to teach, as evidenced by the repetitive writing that dominated each one I cracked open. I was never able to get past the sixth page no matter how many times I developed a game plan to do just that.
More often than not, I couldn’t get past the second page. So, back in January, I finally threw all three booklets out, having no logical justification to keep them around.
The repetitive writing came in two distinct forms, starting with a disconcerting lack of synonyms. If one was about the War of 1812, let's say, a paragraph might easily look like this:
The War of 1812 was a war between the United States of America and the United Kingdom. This war was, in many ways, an offshoot of the Napoleonic wars between the United Kingdom and France. Because the war had so many nations both directly and indirectly involved, it can be a very difficult war to analyze. As a result, the Canadians consider themselves the war’s victors, as do the Americans. And the British barely consider it a war at all. The only obvious losers in this war were the Native Americans.
Now multiply that kind of repetitive writing about four times per page over the course of an entire booklet.
That’s bad writing.
A simple search in a thesaurus would yield a lovely list of synonyms, including conflict, fight and hostility. Or a writer can get creative with terms such as “military engagement” and “armed disagreement.”
Another easy solution is to simply remove words. That second “war” isn’t necessary. The sentence reads better as “The War of 1812 was between the United States and United Kingdom.” In the same way, the second line can be restated as “In many ways, it was an offshoot of the Napoleonic wars between the U.K. and France.”
Just like that, the copy becomes a little less tedious.
The second area of writing the institution in question needs to work on is in repeating its main points instead of adding to them. The five-paragraph essay shouldn’t be used past grade school since it’s one of the least engaging kinds of persuasion possible.
Grown-up authors who want to make grown-up presentations to grown-up audiences should probably start out with a hook as the five-paragraph essay preaches. And yes, a thesis statement is often a good idea too.
But there is almost never a need to formerly restate conclusions at the end of every point. That kind of repetitive writing is much more likely to put readers to sleep then convince them of anything constructive.
Authors can gain a lot more ground through subtler statements, such as quotes from well-known figures or questions to make people ponder. Calls to action are another open option, as are sentences that add one final conclusive concept to tie everything else together.
Much more often than not, repetitive writing disrupts authors’ ability to clearly communicate. And that’s why repetitive writing is repetitive writing (which is almost always bad).