How to Avoid Repetition and Redundancy in Academic Writing
Repetition and redundancy can cause problems at the level of either the entire paper or individual sentences. However, repetition is not always a problem as, when used properly, it can help your reader follow along. This article shows how to streamline your writing.
Avoiding repetition at the paper level
On the most basic level, avoid copy-and-pasting entire sentences or paragraphs into multiple sections of the paper. Readers generally don’t enjoy repetition of this type.
Don’t restate points you’ve already made
It’s important to strike an appropriate balance between restating main ideas to help readers follow along and avoiding unnecessary repetition that might distract or bore readers.
For example, if you’ve already covered your methods in a dedicated methodology chapter, you likely won’t need to summarize them a second time in the results chapter.
If you’re concerned about readers needing additional reminders, you can add short asides pointing readers to the relevant section of the paper (e.g. “For more details, see Chapter 4”).
Don’t use the same heading more than once
It’s important for each section to have its own heading so that readers skimming the text can easily identify what information it contains. If you have two conclusion sections, try making the heading more descriptive – for instance, “Conclusion of X.”
Are all sections relevant to the main goal of the paper?
Try to avoid providing redundant information. Every section, example and argument should serve the main goal of your paper and should relate to your thesis statement or research question.
If the link between a particular piece of information and your broader purpose is unclear, then you should more explicitly draw the connection or otherwise remove that information from your paper.
Avoiding repetition at the sentence level
Keep an eye out for lengthy introductory clauses that restate the main point of the previous sentence. This sort of sentence structure can bury the new point you’re trying to make. Try to keep introductory clauses relatively short so that readers are still focused by the time they encounter the main point of the sentence.
In addition to paying attention to these introductory clauses, you might want to read your paper aloud to catch excessive repetition. Below we listed some tips for avoiding the most common forms of repetition.
- Use a variety of different transition words
- Vary the structure and length of your sentences
- Don’t use the same pronoun to reference more than one antecedent (e.g. “They asked whether they were ready for them”)
- Avoid repetition of particular sounds or words (e.g. “Several shelves sheltered similar sets of shells”)
- Avoid redundancies (e.g “In the year 2019” instead of “in 2019”)
- Don’t state the obvious (e.g. “The conclusion chapter contains the paper’s conclusions”)
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When is repetition not a problem?
It’s important to stress that repetition isn’t always problematic. Repetition can help your readers follow along. However, before adding repetitive elements to your paper, be sure to ask yourself if they are truly necessary.
Restating key points
Repeating key points from time to time can help readers follow along, especially in papers that address highly complex subjects. Here are some good examples of when repetition is not a problem:
Restating the research question in the conclusion
This will remind readers of exactly what your paper set out to accomplish and help to demonstrate that you’ve indeed achieved your goal.
Referring to your key variables or themes
Rather than use varied language to refer to these key elements of the paper, it’s best to use a standard set of terminology throughout the paper, as this can help your readers follow along.
Underlining main points
When used sparingly, repetitive sentence and paragraph structures can add rhetorical flourish and help to underline your main points. Here are a few famous examples:
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” – John F. Kennedy, inaugural address
“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
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