Open Government at the National Archives

The Department of Redundancy Department

This week's Plain Language writing tip comes to us from Professional Redundancy Expert Mary Ryan.

Major events - like this week's Hurricane Sandy - are magnets for superlatives. Is each word necessary?

News and weather reports use language to increase a sense of urgency and momentousness. We are likely to hear and read phrases like:

  • advise doing some advance planning
  • the weather report's forecast for the future
  • would predict conditions in advance
  • completely destroy what lay in its path
  • size and power made it a very unique storm

But if you look at the phrases carefully, you'll see that some of those italicized words aren't really necessary.

advance planning/pre-planning - It's all just planning.

forecast for the future - Forecast, by definition, means to look ahead in time.

predict in advance - Predictions are always made in advance of an event.

completely destroyed - "Completely" doesn't add anything.

advance warning - If you're being warned, you're getting word before something happens.

absolutely essential - If it's essential, it's necessary. Period.

past experience - If you have experienced something, it happened in the past.

very unique - "Unique" means one of a kind. There are no degrees of uniqueness.

When you are writing, read over what you've done and ask yourself if each word is necessary. Have you told your readers in a direct, plain way what they need to know? Look for clutter and judiciously prune your prose if you find any of these intruders.

The NARA Style Guide (section 1.5.2) lists more redundancies to avoid.


Do you have any examples to add to this list? If so, please share them with us! Email plainwriting@nara.gov

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