Copywriting Whoopsies: Redundancies
Let’s trim the fat off your copy
I’ve been having a lot of fun reading Benjamin Dreyer’s Grammar Book: Dreyer’s English – an Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. If you’re a copywriter or you’re interested in writing, grab a copy. It is an absolute delight; one of those collectibles that you’ll flick through again and again – which leads me to the topic of this blog post.
Redundancies. If you want to improve your writing skills, eliminating redundancies, aka tautological phrases – or ‘trimmables’ as Dreyer refers – is a good place to start. Once you become aware of them, they can be an awful lot of fun. We have a good giggle with them at home–spotting them, catching each other out, making them up.
“As I am angry at this point in time, I myself will talk to the female lesbian with a closed fist and have a head-on confrontation until we decide the final outcome.”
“He will kneel down, join together what he can salvage, glance briefly at his watch and then merge together what he can.”
You’ll see a lot of them on the news, but I can’t blame the poor journalists. By the looks of things they’re extremely underpaid and probably have about 15 minutes to write each story. But we also see plenty of them in Bad Writing. They’re wordy, bloated and a waste of space. (I was going to say foolish but that seems a bit harsh.)
Okay, I’m the one calling these forgivable, but in the scheme of things, some redundancies are more forgivable than others. Take a look at these, for example:
PIN Number - It’s Personal Identification Number. There is no point in saying personal identification number number, now is there.
HIV virus – ditto, its human immunodeficiency virus, not human immunodeficiency virus virus.
slightly ajar - oops
undergraduate student - sounds okay, but it isn’t
unsolved mystery - duh
sink down - okay, I know it’s wrong but this is certain poetry attached that I find acceptable
sudden impulse - ditto
might possibly - ditto
Knotts per hour - unless you were a sailor, you may not have known
Garden variety bad redundancies
These redundancies happen all the time and are just plain wrong. They might not be head-slappingly stupid, but they’re not so forgivable; you could do better. Again, they bloat your page and make your work look unsophisticated.
depreciated in value
earlier in time
last of all
personal opinion, I personally
Just plain dumb (must try harder)
past history - has a distinct Trumpian feel, no? (I think he said “this history – or any history” the other night)
future plans – ditto
Plan ahead, preplan - just horrible, and one I see way too often
an unexpected surprise - as opposed to an anticipated surprise
free gifts – this is extremely common and I often find myself arguing over with clients. Yes, the extra word gives more emphasis, but come on.
Integrate with each other - just icky
exact same – just dumb
fewer in number
unthaw - stop it
wall mural – it always pays to think
female lesbian – really?
How to avoid this misery
First, realise we all fall prey to redundancies. You’re not the only idiot out there. But don’t be surprised if you become far more miserable once you become aware of them. Sorry about that, but it’s all part of the process. You’ll hate yourself because they’re fugly, clumsy, not cool.
Next, be on the lookout. See if you can spot redundancies wherever you look. Treat it like a game, ‘cause it’s fun, and all learning should be fun. And if you’re not sure about something when you’re writing, look it up. It doesn’t take a lot of effort.
But the easiest hack? Get Grammarly. Please, install Grammarly. It’ll make you write clearer, and it’ll make you write better. It’ll correct grammatical errors, spelling errors, remove redundancies – and a bunch of other stuff. And best of all, it gives you an ongoing education. Truly, that’s the best part; you’ll learn stuff. And learning is always good.
FYI, I tell all my clients to use Grammarly, even though it puts me out of a fair wad of editing work. I sincerely want my clients to succeed, so I want every part of their communications to be spot on. It’s heartbreaking to slave away creating good copy for a client, only to see them write a social media post or reply to an email with poor grammar, hideous spelling or ‘whack’ capitalisations. (What is it with capitalisations these days? Some people just throw them in, midsentence: “I walked past the Tree again this morning.” Just stop it already.)
I’m on a tangent now, but the other great sadness for me is that the clients that need Grammarly the most are the ones that don’t install it, no matter how hard I plead.
“Nah, I’m all Good thanks. Theirs no problem.”