How ‘duh’ moments undercut a writer’s (and readers’) ‘ah-ha’ moments

Well-intended authors can gunk up their prose with repetition, rather than letting the context do the heavy lifting. Consider these examples.

How to write without repetition

Here’s a little story:

Bert and Harry are out on the course. Bert gets out of the cart, reaches into his bag, pulls out a club, walks up to his ball and hits it straight and far. Harry says, “Hey, Bert, nice shot.”

Is there any doubt what Bert and Harry are doing? Probably not.

Still, you might see that same episode depicted this way:

Bert and Harry are out on the golf course. Bert gets out of the golf cart, reaches into his golf bag, pulls out a golf club, walks up to his golf ball and hits it straight and far. Harry says, “Hey, Bert, nice golf shot.”

Six mentions of the word “golf.Maybe the first is helpful; the other five definitely are not.

Word counts are like golf scores: The lower the number, the more effective your game is.

Imagine now that you’re writing a blog post about social media marketing. How often must you repeat the phrase “social media marketing” to make your point? Not often, I assure you.

Yet many’s the time I have seen that—or some other topic du jour—hammered home relentlessly. (In one 900-word article I edited, that phrase reared its head a staggering 23 times.)

That sort of reminder does not benefit from repetition; rather, it becomes a cumbersome annoyance.

Your readers deserve credit for understanding the topic at hand. (They’re reading your article, so they must be quite smart, right?) Rely on the context, even when discussing fundamentals. You don’t want your readers muttering, “No spit, Sherlock,” nor anything like it.

Don’t let a “duh” moment undermine your “ah-ha!” moments.

For example, how often have you seen something like the following?

1. Ask the best questions.

For me, the first step is to focus on asking the best questions.

Wow, really?

Three things here: The guidance in the numbered lead-in is echoed immediately in the subsequent sentence. Clearly it’s the first step, that’s why it’s offered as point No. 1.

Also, “For me” begins the sentence. It’s a blog post conveying the author’s insights, so that personal viewpoint is implicit. There’s no need to restate it.

The author might have a vast wealth of guidance and information to impart—those aforementioned “ah-ha!” moments—but that 13-word sentence is nothing but an impediment to the delivery of those gems.

Writers fall into such traps with good intentions—trying to make things crystal clear for readers. Streamlining text works better to let your salient points shine.

COMMENT

One Response to “How ‘duh’ moments undercut a writer’s (and readers’) ‘ah-ha’ moments”

    Bill Spaniel says:

    Also get rid of “I think” and “in my opinion.” If you are writing an opinion piece or expressing a viewpoint, those phrases are superfluous.

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