Identifying Redundant Words

Magnifying glass overlaid on page of text

Some words that we may use in written and spoken conversations add little value or meaning to our messages. Developing the ability to spot potentially unnecessary words in a sentence, questioning their value and optionally removing the "hangers-on", can help turn an average, "amateur" publication into one that is "tight, snappy, focused."

Yet depending on the kind of document we're creating, adding more and different words can sometimes add colour, texture, greater meaning and emphasis to what we want to say.

The "magic trick" involves working out what is required and what you can lose. Different people may have opposing views on what they may consider what's essential compared to what is viewed as unnecessary babble, ramble, prattle.

After a few such practise sessions, you'll start to recognize your own familiar patterns that have contributed to excess wording in the first place.

With more practice, when working on a publication or speech script, you can learn to save time and effort by not creating your own verbose heap that requires cutting later.

Having the luxury of an accomplished, experienced outside editor available at a moment's notice can also help.

However, if you're tasked with working alone, know that whatever you decide to do, you won't please everyone - nor should you try.

Why not simply write fast, edit slowly, do the work, and move on to your next task. Over time, you'll believe you're getting better: go with that.

Some redundant words are more common than others. Let's examine three of my favorites. Consider the following two sentences:

  • "Mark was genuinely impressed with her determination to get the job done."
  • "Mark was genuinely very impressed with her determination to get the job done."

Of the two examples above, which version do you prefer? Which word or words do you think are unnecessary?

Here's my core suggestion: including the word "very" seldom adds more meaning, power, or intensity of a sentence. To me, too much use of the word "very" feels like stomach ache: rarely welcome and usually doesn't help.

So why should we avoid using "very" in most instances? Answer: the use of "very" suggests an extreme condition, outcome, or characteristic and rarely are such situations so extreme.

Therefore, I suggest, in your writing, make the use of "very" earn its place. 

Furthermore, perhaps more importantly, in most instances, by removing the word "very", we usually don't affect the impact or meaning of a message.

In our second example above, Mark may have been moved by "... her determination ...", however, he wasn't so impressed that her determination would unduly dominate her thoughts.

Although we may commonly use "very" in relaxed speech, in writing or a carefully considered speech, rarely is the use of "very" justified.

So my overarching recommendation: especially when writing nonfiction publications, delete the word "very" as often as you can, whenever appropriate.

Imagine yourself as a Samurai warrior: your enemy is "very". Swing your Samurai sword with abandon - and enjoy the cull.

Key tip: with some practice during the development of your writing, you can detect redundant words that are simply not required.

For example, here are two additional potentially redundant words:

  • Incredibly.
  • Extremely.

Remember, words ending in -ly are usually those dreaded adverbs. Even our favourite hated word "very" is an adverb too. That's why when analysed more closely, many unnecessary words do indeed turn out to be adverbs

When Might You Want to Keep Some Redundant Words?

In day-to-day speech, we often repeat ourselves. That's why, in at least one area of writing, we may have full justification for keeping some redundant words: especially when creating dialogue in fiction stories.


In fiction, we're mimicking how people act and behave in real life. We humans are often illogical, confused, certainly flawed, driven by emotion, excited by passion, steeped in fickle moods and whims.

So when writing your novel, why not let the personality of your character determine what he or she has to say? After all, doesn't your protagonist know best?

Nevertheless, by all means, still be on the lookout for unnecessary words, yet allow your character's emotional profile determine word choices, word frequency, and sentence construction in character dialogs especially.

Ready? Who's Next?

Now why not get your word axe out from your toolkit and start chopping? Maybe you can chop a few "victims" from this article too. However, my agenda is tempered by different tides, including a more subtle web vision.

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