Frequently Asked Questions

Sometimes when I'm writing I feel as though I'm saying the same thing over and over.  How can I avoid repetition?

There is overall structural repetition, repetition arising from an inability to come to the point, and repetition of words, phrases and sentences.

Structural Repetition

Structural repetition may be unavoidable: for example, you may need to repeat aspects of your methodology with each group of results. Structural repetition may even be necessary: for example, if you are applying the same analytical framework to different texts, you may need to preserve the same structure to be able to extract the common themes. However, structural repetition may not be serving any purpose and could be disguising similarities and differences in what you are discussing. This is a common problem in any comparison. You need to find the evaluative criteria which are the object of the comparison and then structure your writing around these. Use structural patterns to your advantage to emphasise your point. Often it is only by doing this and seeing what relationships different structures expose, that you fully realise the implications of your analysis. It is only through comparing and contrasting methods, models, and ways of approaching things that you can see the relative strengths and weaknesses of each; that you can see their potential applications and implications.

Not Coming to the Point

Repetition which stems from going around and around the point and never closing in on it is solved by:

forgetting what you have written,
asking yourself
then starting afresh from the top.

Sometimes trying to re-work what you've done or adding another explanatory sentence will fail to achieve any more than yet another turn around the general area.

Talking it through with someone else or talking yourself through it will sometimes achieve clarity:
So, what I want to say here is x. I have two points to make. I will first tackle A because it will lead me to B. Once I have done this, I can go on to discuss the implications of both A and B on C. I can link to my next point by showing that C will …..etc.
Repetition of Words, Phrases and Sentences

Perhaps the repetition of whole sentences is a consequence of using a computer and the cutting and pasting function. In the most extreme cases, in some theses we read the identical sentences in the Abstract, Introduction, Discussion and Conclusion. Each section deserves to be thought through in its own terms. You may have to search deliberately for different ways of expressing yourself. The writing of the different sections may have spanned months. But the reading will be done in a short time only and the repetition begins to strike a negative note.

Phrases and words may simply be overworked as you become attached to one way of saying something. When you are coming to writing, think about different verbs and linking words and expand your repertoire and make your meaning as explicit as possible. On the other hand, a particular phrase may well be the accepted way of referring to the phenomenon in your discipline. Jargon and the particular conventions for using terms have to be retained because they are usually well-defined and enhance communication among scholars. Departure from these terms could make readers believe you are talking about something else and it could lead to misunderstanding.

There is no virtue in change for the sake of novelty. Always select the form to support your meaning. If you need a parallel structure to support a parallel meaning, then use it. For example, if you have a series of sentences in a paragraph beginning the same way, this is fine if each is an instance of the same kind of thing. To change one would break the rhythm of the paragraph and destroy the unity of the idea.

Of course, restatement of a difficult idea has a proper place in your writing. This is not the same as repetition but rather is helpful to the reader. Usually you would introduce a restatement with a marker phrase such as :

"In other words", "Put another way".
* Revising and editing.
* Revision.
* Editing.
* Working on a section.
* What style of writing is expected?
* The use of personal pronouns.
* Active vs passive voice.
* The use of tenses.

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