Repetition Redundancy

Editors tell us that repetition (directly repeating the same words) and redundancy (indirect repetition through alternate phrases or synonyms) are common flaws in rejected papers and that these are particularly common in the writing of scientists whose native language is not English. Unfortunately repetition is even less tolerated in science journals than it was years ago. It is understandable that repetition is a language trap easy to fall into because English has a richness of synonyms plus almost endless varieties of syntactical structures for expressing identical thoughts. Therefore writers can easily convince themselves that they are not repeating but merely emphasizing points and making them clearer. However editors have quick eyes for all forms of repetition and they don't respect any of them.

You get to make a point once and only once. You can make it clearly and powerfully by your careful choice of succinct language, but you only get to say it once. Ideas, no matter how important, how complicated, or how innovative, are not restated or rephrased within the body of a research article. The only acceptable repetition occurs in a final summary where vital information can be briefly restated without detailed explanation.

Most writing, untouched by editing, is banal and repetitive.

- A. Eisenberg, Scientific American, December 2001, p. 97

Repeated Vocabulary

Repetition of the same non-science vocabulary, especially verbs, will make your manuscript dull. Replace some repeated non-technical words with alternate words that will mean the same and often be more accurate. Do this for all non-science vocabulary by setting your computer to scan your article to show how often you have repeated an interest-adding word or phrase.

Note that a thesaurus is a dangerous source for finding an alternate word to use. English is both too subtle and too complex for a thesaurus to be a safe tool. Your only reliable information is in your spreadsheets and the articles you photocopied. If neither of these contain the vocabulary you seek, find other recent articles written by native English speakers, photocopy them, and add data from them to your spreadsheets.

A final warning: After you have seasoned your manuscript with more interesting language take care that you haven't used a particularly eye-catching word or phrase more than once. Such words or phrases add spice to your writing, which is good, but they stand out prominently. So set your computer to find each of these. Choose the most effective place for each, and use each only once.

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