The Power Of Word Repetition

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Elsewhere in this knowledge archive, we've examined what can become a common pitfall of any writer: word repetition. How repeating the same word — other than those commonly used "connectors" — within the same sentence, paragraph, series of paragraphs, or even on the same page can result in tarnishing your writing with a boring, unimaginative "edge."

Yet, the topic isn't as clear cut as perhaps we may at first glance think.

Sometimes, repeating the same word in the same sentence or paragraph can add a certain drama and impact to a document. To shed more light on how best to use word repetition, let's explore the issue in more depth.

In the first paragraph above, I've suggested that the kind of word repetition we might normally avoid can sometimes work well.

What we're looking for here is word repetition that is accomplished with some intention, strategy, forethought, rather than repeating a word simply when we can't think of anything else that may be more appropriate.

Considered Word Repetition

Considered word repetition can improve a document — the key word here is "considered". When we repeat core words without giving sufficient consideration or using the same word too many times on the same page, we can certainly reduce the perceived "quality" of a publication.

The end result can then appear clumsy or amateurish — not the sort of adjectives that as communicators we want associated with our work.

Key tip: if word repetition results in a piece that is arresting or adds energy and drama to the moment, then such repetition can work well for a document.

To get started now however, let's explore some answers to the perfectly reasonable question: "How do you decide what is 'active' repetition and what is simply poor quality duplication?"

Here's my answer in three steps:

  • Make your own judgment. The trick here is to use considered "active" repetition combined with sound judgment. How do we develop the kind of discerning eye that leads to good judgment? One solution is provided in the following step below.
  • Write daily, read often, ponder and consider what you read. Getting feedback from others promotes cross-thought and personal creativity. Question and indeed challenge, especially accepted conventions, or the status quo. Why? We can then develop a level of experience in our writing thought processes that can help us make better choices when crafting publications and speeches. Explore how active repetition steeped in steadfast belief and high emotions can be used to great effect by some of the world's most effective orators.
  • In your writing or speaking projects, be aware of how word repetition frequency can affect your documents.

Two Memorable Examples When Word Repetition Creates Impact

To illustrate further how active, considered word repetition can help lead to the creation of an astonishingly proficient document, consider the following two examples.

First, we can delight in that stirring, timeless and memorable World War 2 speech made by Sir Winston Churchill on June 4, 1940:


...We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

"We Shall Fight On The Beaches", speech, Sir Winston Churchill

Perhaps Sir Winston's use of language best illustrates what, even today, sits deep in the hearts of many Britons: the overwhelming desire to live in freedom.

If we ignore the politics and allow for the oratory nuances of the period, consider how active repetition in the example above actually enhances the end result.

Sir Winston Churchill's delivery also demonstrates a certain unremitting, motivational passion that seems to supply the additional energy necessary to create the climax in the final sentence.

Key tip: you too can add more fervour, ardour, energy, but adjust your choice of words and writing / speaking style for the time you are living in, your audience, and the goal you're seeking.

In our second example below, study how through the deceptively simple, yet awesome power of active word repetition, Dr Martin Luther King compares the familiar imagery that we all understand — of hills and mountains — with the majestic, lofty and more abstract ambition of freedom:


... So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

"I have a dream", speech excerpt, Doctor Martin Luther King

Rules? What Rules?

Inspirational orators such as the authors of our two examples above deliver more than just speeches. Through a subtle delivery mix of words, sentences and paragraphs, they can affect moods, induce thousands of receptive individuals seemingly from nowhere almost instantly, and subsequently be largely responsible for changing our world in a fundamental way.

Clearly, writers and communicators of all genres can learn from the passionate use of language that celebrated speech-makers exhibit.

In the world of humans, perhaps passions and emotions cause change perhaps more than any other source driver.

However, I believe that most great speeches are the result of extraordinary attention to detail, multiple rewrite cycles and of course a developed skill in communication. No doubt, like a fine wine, quality takes time to formulate.

Ultimate key tip: changing times often means new approaches, that are more attuned to the audience of the day, can work better. So while the same style explored in our two examples above, may not work as well today, certainly, without doubt, no matter the era or time of life, when you allow your true zest and passion to shine through in your writing and speaking presentations, you demonstrate a rare and attractive quality that can quickly endear you to your audience.

Therefore, don't be afraid to "break the rules" — that's how all change and progress is made. By all means, repeat and be damned but do so with astute active consideration.

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