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Trying to be precise, we are redundant.

Redundancy is one of the more venial sins of writing. It seldom defeats the readers' understanding, but it can discourage them from continuing to read if there's much of it.

Redundancy is often a natural result of the drafting process, when the writer, in a rush to get the words out, is, suitably, uncritical. Revision is supposed to catch these problems. In scientific and technical writing, though, redundancy also works its way into prose not as a result of lack of thought while drafting, but of too much effort in trying to ensure that the sentences are precise. Although precision is an important aim of technical writing, redundancy is no help toward reaching that goal.

Lack of Revision

The redundancies that result from unrevised drafts are often easy to see and simple to fix. For example,

Associated with indoleacetic acid (IAA) in plant cells is an enzymatic pathway capable of oxidizing IAA to various oxidation products.

Clearly, the product of the chemical reaction called oxidation will be oxidation products. If the author meant to emphasize that there was more than one possible product, a better end to the sentence would be ". . . to a variety of products."

Here's another example of this type:

The recording materials contain . . . enough base in an amount to start the coupling reaction by neutralizing the acidic substance.

Here, someone just needs to read the sentence a second time to notice that enough and in an amount are equivalent and one can be eliminated.

In other sentences, the source of a redundancy isn't always clear, as in the following:

The egg is a single, large cell, which upon sperm binding and fusion ceases to be metabolically and developmentally dormant and enters a period of rapid developmental activity.

This might be an unrevised phrasing from a draft, or the author might have indeed thought that the phrase after the word "and" contributed something to the sentence. But when something ceases to be dormant, activity is the result, whether it's an animal rousing from hibernation or an egg being fertilized.

If the emphasis the author wanted is to convey the speed of the activity that results, this sentence could be better broken apart, with the end forming the start of the next sentence that would tell the reader something about the activity period:

The egg is a single, large cell, which upon sperm binding and fusion ceases to be metabolically and developmentally dormant. The period of rapid developmental activity that follows . . .

Attempts at Precision

Beyond the unrevised draft phrasings that find their way into a document are those the author deliberately uses in trying to ensure precision. A common form of redundancy in technical prose is the unnecessary restatement of items being compared, especially when there are only two items involved. When the two items have been clearly identified, there is seldom a need for continual, explicit reference to both in each sentence of comparison. For example,

Possibly related to these findings is the report of Smith and Jones that, while no difference can be found between the HRT and the DMG systems in terms of speed, there is a greater precision found with the HRT system than with the DMG system. The authors suggested that the discrepancy between the speed and precision results might reflect the difference in computational algorithms, giving greater precision in the HRT system than in the DMG system.

Once it has been stated that there are only two things being, compared, the reader doesn't need the point repeated this often; the phrases in italics should be deleted. Occasionally in a document it is reasonable to remind the reader of the items being compared, but within each sentence, paragraph, or even more than once a section, it's usually an imposition on, rather than a help to, the reader.

Even when several items are the subject of comparison, it is often unnecessary to explicitly list each one. When comparing four things, for example, a technical author will often make a statement of the form

Lead was found to be denser relative to aluminum, iron, and copper.

Yet when only the highest or lowest item in a comparative list is being stated, you don't need to specify the entire list. Assuming the set of items being compared was made clear earlier, it is sufficient to say

Lead was the densest material tested.

Occasionally an author will produce a redundant phrase by attempting to be precise but forgetting to add an essential bit of information:

Increasing the |volume of~ inoculum reduced the fermentation times: 2% D-xylose was fermented in 48 h as compared to 72 h when using less inoculum.

Here, for example, nothing is added to the reader's knowledge or understanding by the second half of the sentence. The author meant to state how much less inoculum was used in the 72 h fermentation but forgot to add that quantity in revising the draft. The result is a simple restatement, not added information.

Conceptual Confusion

More difficult for the reader to deal with are redundancies that are conceptual, which may occur when the author hasn't really thought through the point to be made and how to express it. Take the following passage, which opened a discussion of operational changes in a paper mill:

It is usually difficult to predict the ripple effects that occur throughout a mill when a change is made in one of the processes. Pulp and paper mills are complex, highly interconnected processing plants. Repercussions from changes made in one part of the mill usually extend beyond that process--often in unpredictable ways. It may be difficult to quantify the results of changes in a process stream, such as increasing the flow, . . . moving piping, etc. It is even more difficult to predict changes to be expected in other parts of the mill.

All of the sentences here seem to be complete and reasonable. Yet after reading through the paragraph, there's a lingering feeling of confusion: that there's a point here I understood, but also something that I must have missed, and what that is isn't quite clear. There's a good basis for this feeling: The paragraph simply repeats the same statement three times. The reader's knowledge really doesn't advance after the first two sentences.

The first and third sentences, for example, say the same thing in different words: When you change one thing, you can't tell what else will be affected. Furthermore, the last two sentences combine to repeat this theme again. Thus, there are only two complete ideas in the entire five sentences. The second idea, in the second sentence--"Pulp and paper mills are complex, highly interconnected processing plants"--could be combined with the first, with the third, or with the fourth and fifth sentences to provide all the information in much less space. Any of these three combinations would be an improvement over the confusing circularity of the original paragraph.

Finally, one of the worst cases of redundancy occurs when a writer loses focus on the meaning of a sentence and comes up with a sentence that is equivalent to an identity: 1 |is equivalent to~ 1.

The Integration by Parts method was performed, as the name implies, through the continual application of the integration by parts formula.

Help your readers by making sure repetitions are planned and useful. Don't waste your readers' time by being redundant or saying the same thing twice!
COPYRIGHT 1994 Society for Technical Communication
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Title Annotation:Term Talk; redundancies in technical writing
Author:Nadziejka, David E.
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:May 1, 1994
Words:1231
Previous Article:Technical Writing: A Practical Approach, 2d ed.
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