Word repetition—good or bad?
“Can I repeat this word throughout my report, or is it better to mix things up?” That’s a question I hear sometimes. Many people think that repetition is bad.
I like the following quote from Roger Rosenblatt in Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing:
Read Hemingway’s short stories, where he uses the same words over and over, and the words gain meaning with every repetition. If you have someone say something, let him “say” it—not aver it, declare it or intone it. Let the power reside in what he says.
I love that last line: “Let the power reside in what he says.”
I took a stand for repetition in “How to discuss index and portfolio returns: My case against synonyms for ‘return’.” I prefer plain old “returned.” However, many of my survey respondents favored more colorful words. I’m glad I found Rosenblatt’s quote to make my case.
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MLK’s “I have a dream speech” is an example of good and effective writing. But too often writers reuse words in close promity because they’re lazy, not aware, or missing their thesaurus. They’re not power words, repeated for emphasis, but remain because of shoddy editing.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, David! MLK often provides great examples.