Watch Out for Redundancies

I edit large manuscripts, which means that on a given week, I probably read about one thousand pages. Eight hundred of those pages may be devoted to work, and two hundred are for pleasure. I can’t tell you how often I run across phrases that are redundant.

Here are some examples of redundant or irrelevant terms:

“Jack came home at 4a.m. in the morning.” It’s fine to use one or the other; 4 a.m. or four in the morning is sufficient. Saying both is repetitive.

“The suspect is armed and dangerous.”Unless we are talking about a soldier or a police officer, armed says it all for me when referring to someone who might hit up a convenience store, particularly because the person has already been called a suspect.

“Before he put his briefcase away, the professor checked for text messages on his cell phone.” Unless you’re trying to distinguish a cell phone from an iPad or a Skype conversation, a text usually comes from a cell phone. Nine times out of ten, you can safely say, “Before he put his briefcase away, the professor checked his text messages.”

Last, “Mahendra brought his two parents to school for student teacher night.” Most people have two parents. It’s understood. Some people in blended families have three parents or four parents as a result of divorce, and other people are single parents. If you want to highlight the fact that Jimmy has two parents instead of four or only one, go ahead. But chances are people will assume that there are two parents. Hence, the sentence can be written: “Mahendra brought his parents to school for student teacher night.”

Looking for redundancies is easy once you get used to paying more attention to detail during the writing process or when you are rewriting.

If it does, the editor will play a completely different role than the writer. Let’s say that the writer has written a novel and submitted it to a developmental editor. The editor will examine the manuscript very carefully to assess character development, background setting, conflict between and within characters, and the resolution of the plot. A developmental editor may recommend many changes in the story to make it more clear, consistent, or less wordy. A newspaper editor may look for potential legal problems, and the editor of a charitable foundation may look for inaccuracies in the monthly report. After the author has implemented some of these recommendations, the manuscript goes for copyediting.