One of the most harmful and most problematic writing choices and actions is to double a term and use two words to show a concept or idea, especially and particularly when the two words or terms are similar and hard to tell apart. I can hear you all asking now...“Wait...what did you just say?” Let me repeat it, but this time let me write it more clearly: One of the most harmful writing choices is to use two words to show an idea, especially when the two words are similar.
At best, the reader will feel we are being wordy. At the worst, the reader will be lost in trying to puzzle out the nuances of our meaning.
Now, don't get me wrong! Using more than one word in a description can be worthwhile. If the differences between the words used allows you to describe a broader range of relevance, that list might be absolutely necessary. The editing concept we are examining today only occurs when the two words are similar. When the words are different, this problem does not occur. For example, when we say “the fire department is ready to respond at any time, day or night,” the combination of those two opposing terms shows that the readiness extends to all extremes.
The opening example of this blog entry was intended not only to give examples of these unclear dual statements but also to show how they can be even more damaging when several of them occur close together. In our attempt to be more detailed, many of us use these dual structures in our drafts. This is fine, as long as we remove them during our editing. Unfortunately, dual statements can be hard to detect. As the proud parents, we know the minute differences between our babies...but the reader will have a more difficult time understanding the intention behind each word.
As a strategy for examining our document for dual wordings, it is useful to use the find command (ctrl-f on PCs and ⌘-f on Macs) to search for the word “and.” This will not identify all dual structures in your text, but it gives you a different way to strengthen your text. Why not try it out with your next project? Even better...why not pull out an old paper that you know didn't get edited to its strongest possible form and see if this trick would have helped you!