Repeating a word or phrase happens to the best of us at times, especially if you’re writing an article and using a specific vocabulary for your topic. You won’t even notice you’ve used the same word several times in the span of one paragraph because it’s foremost in your mind. But those repeats can set off an echo in the reader’s mind - that subconscious feeling of “Didn’t he just say that?” It can be irritating to read and, worse, it can detract from what you are trying to say. The more uncommon a word or phrase, the more likely it is to echo, even pages apart.
Consider the following text:
At your next get-together, cook together as a family and enjoy the benefits of creating a meal together and the bond you’ll create.
Word repetition is an indication of non-mindful writing, and professors find themselves circling these errors often on student papers. It is easy as the reader to point out how many times “together” is used in the above example, but as the writer, you know what you meant to express and so the emphasis sounds natural to you.
Although it is easy to make this kind of error, it can be difficult for you, as the writer, to spot. When you are editing you usually re-read the same piece several times and so you become impervious to that echo feeling. And when you are looking at a sentence on its own and making amends, you can sometimes input a word that is just right for that sentence, forgetting that you also used it in the one before or after.
That said, use your own best judgment about repeating a word or two in your text. Sometimes they make the best poetry. Dickens’ opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities is a great example of effective repetition:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
ProWritingAid highlights words and phrases repeated within a few paragraphs so you can easily track down unintended repetition and replace it with a more diverse vocabulary.
Note: The Repeats Check in ProWritingAid is different from the Overused Words Check in that Repeats catches how many times you use a word or phrase in your text. The Overused Words Check identifies words that are used so often in published works that they’ve lost their intensity or meaning, like the word “very.” Click here to read What are Overused Words Anyway?