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The Same Word Dilemma

Abstract clock with the words time for change

Words can be more than just words. Words are multipurpose tools. They can be building blocks. A word can stand in for something else. Words can be to sounds what colors make available to our eyes.

Words are richer than we may at first think. The same word, used in a different sentence, in a different context, can have a different meaning. Too much word repetition can create problems, yet also present opportunities to implant a particular impression.

On many occasions, while creating your message, whether you're:

  • Authoring a book.
  • Documenting a manual or user guide.
  • Drafting a report.
  • Developing a speech.
  • Crafting an audio-visual or PowerPoint presentation.
  • Recording an MP3 sound file.
  • Producing a video clip.
  • Writing content for a web page.
  • Or nurturing some other kind of creative work ...

... you may wonder: "When and how often should I use the same word or phrase in my work?"

Below are some guidelines to help you consider further and decide how to tackle the word repetition problem:

  • Common "link" words include "and", "to", "are" and so on, connect phrases and sentences so are used repeatedly. We accept high repetition rates for connecting words as the norm.
  • However, some words have a weightier meaning within a sequence: the repetition frequency of these "key" words is something we should consider more carefully if we want to create a stronger, more balanced, interesting message.
  • Especially while writing evocative, engaging documents like those used in marketing materials, certainly strive not to use the same "key" words within the same sentence.
  • Sometimes, after re-reading your message, you may decide that the above guideline should go further and cover adjacent paragraphs — suddenly, your writing requires significantly more consideration.
  • Often, you may decide that the same "key" word is called for in the same sentence. Experiment whether another word or phrase that essentially has the same or similar meaning can be substituted, to help create sentences that appear more balanced, interesting, with added contrast.
  • Here's one exception: when writing technical or plain-English documentation, user guides, manuals, and so forth, you'll almost always want to use the same "key" words and phrases more often. Why: to ensure your instructions or definitions are made absolutely clear from the start. Easy to follow, specific action steps are often called for within user guides, especially when any hint of ambiguity may creep in.
  • When your writing must be clear, accurate, unambiguous, you can allow creativity and variety to take second place, to simple and direct communication.

Some Benefits of Taking Note of "Key" Word Repetition Frequency

Through careful consideration of how often your "key" words appear within your creative work and then applying subsequent remedial action where necessary, you can:

  • Help make your overall message "tighter".
  • Avoid a clumsy, amateurish "feel".
  • Provide a stronger, more professional finish.

Key tip: some writers go much further suggesting that you should not repeat the same "key" word anywhere else on the same page. An admirable, though not an easy requirement to meet. Better: be flexible, adaptable. Let your message purpose best dictate the flow of writing.

Trust your judgment as the originator and controller of your work. You're already in the best position to decide on "key" word frequency.

So write your drafts as soon as you can, edit carefully, read your drafts again, more slowly, evaluate your entire document finish, then make any additional changes you see fit.

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