November 1, 2014

Small Things that Matter #2: Redundancy

I am a big fan of Ace of Cakes, the pseudo-reality drama on the Food Network. The folks who make up Charm City Cakes are my kind of creative geniuses.

Each episode, the quirky band of decorators is faced with the cake world’s version of a story to be told. After carefully crafting the base of the cake, (think outline), they begin the work of making its message come alive. First they apply a smooth, perfectly rolled fondant. Then other precise colors and accents are added, and the concept begins to emerge. A bit more theme-specific (and critical) detail work, and their vision in cake — the likes of which most of us could only dream of attaining — emerges.

Now contrast this to the average home baker who flails about the kitchen with inadequate equipment, hoping that a single icing tip and a spatula will suffice. Even if the cake is shaped correctly, the finish work is likely to brand the completed product as “homemade” — heartwarming for the intended recipients, but not likely to get the baker a place in the culinary spotlight.

Skilled writers shape their stories with the precision and detail of a skilled cake decorator. But writers who fail to craft their sentences with care are destined to overdecorate like an amateur with a butter knife. And like their baking cohort, they will no doubt create something, but when it is all said and done, audience appreciation will be limited to good friends and family who know how hard they tried. Not exactly the criteria for marketable success.

One of the most common (and easily improved) problem areas that leads to sloppy writing is redundancy, in particular the slathering on of adjectives and adverbs when the meaning is clear without them.

Consider these common examples:

joined together

  • “In 1998, a group of individuals with a love for the mountain joined together to form the Laurel Mountain Ski Company.”

Have you every seen anyone “joined apart”? “Joined” implies “together.” No need for both words.

broad array

  • “RIM technology also enables a broad array of third party developers and manufacturers to enhance their products and services with wireless connectivity to data.”

Ever been offered a “narrow array”? Websters defines an “array” as “an imposing group : large number.” Clearly, adding the modifier “broad” is redundant.

reason why

  • “Higgins says it’s clear profit is the sole reason why prices here are so high.”

Sherry’s Grammar List offers a wonderfully poetic explanation for why this is a redundancy: “The reason is already the why, and the why already means the reason. When you ask why, you’re asking for the reason, and when you ask for the reason, you’re asking for the why.”

final destination/final resolution/final outcome

  • “If the airline arranges substitute transportation that gets you to your final destination within an hour of your original scheduled arrival time, you won’t be compensated.”
  • “Mr. Sidorsky said he would fly to Moscow for more talks on Wednesday, an indication that a final resolution had not been found. “We hope to solve all other questions in the coming days,” he said”
  • “Oustimovitch said it’s clear his group won’t have a vote on the final outcome.”

If a word implies “the end,” as in destination, solution and outcome, then it’s final. No need to final-ize it.

  • A note: The use of “final” with destination makes sense in the following sentence about “The Amazing Race,” where contestants race from one destination to another on the way to the end of the competition:
  • “At the airport each team bought tickets for their flight to their final destination of Portland.

share a common

  • “We’ve brought together two outstanding teams that share a common passion for innovation and commitment to customer success.”
  • “The two restaurants share a common kitchen between them, but The Loft is open only for the dinner-and-later crowd and leans toward a lounge atmosphere.”

I think we can assume that sharing implies having something in common.

mutually agreed

  • “FC Dallas announced that the club and defender Duilio Davino have mutually agreed to end his contract with FC Dallas”

They either agreed, which is by definition mutual, or they didn’t, which is neither an agreement or mutual.

And the list goes on:

merged together

gathered together

completely destroyed

packed to capacity

random chance

You get the idea.

The solution to the problem of redundancy is the same solution to every writing problem: pay attention. Pay attention to what each word is doing in the sentence. But when it comes to redundancy in particular, be on the lookout for phrases that have become so common place, we read right over them without thinking.

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