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Have you ever received feedback on an essay or writing assignment saying that you have repeated words, phrases or ideas too many times? If your writing is repetitive, it can slow down a reader, make your writing sound boring or even indicate that you do not have enough knowledge about a topic. In this post, we will be investigating some writing techniques to help reduce repetition. Repeated words, phrases or ideas can often decrease your chances of scoring well on an essay or other piece of writing, but with the help of synonyms and other writing techniques, you will be able to improve your writing.

Watch our video below to see an in-depth explanation of writing techniques you can use to avoid repeated words, phrases and ideas. Then take our interactive synonyms quiz for free here.

1: Use Synonyms (in the Right Context)

When looking for ways to reduce repeated words and ideas in your writing, the first writing technique to start with is to use synonyms. Not only will this help to expand your vocabulary, but it will also allow you to communicate your ideas more effectively and as a result, engage your reader better. 

However, it is not as simple as just using a thesaurus or looking up synonyms for particular words on the internet. When choosing the right synonyms, there are a few factors you should consider:

Factors to Consider When Choosing Synonyms: Purpose, Audience, Meaning

When considering the purpose of our writing, we must think about what genre we are writing. For example, is it a persuasive text or opinion essay, a blog post, or a letter? Is it formal or informal writing? Considering the genre will help you choose appropriate synonyms and vocabulary. 

This is also closely related to the audience, or your reader. Who is the piece of writing for? Are you trying to impress a high stakes test assessor? Or a university professor or teacher? Perhaps you are writing an email to a peer or an announcement to the general public. Whoever your reader is, you must keep them in mind when it comes to your synonyms and word choice. 

Finally, we should consider the meaning of synonyms in context. Synonyms for a particular word will have slightly different meanings for different situations. If we do not precisely choose the correct synonym, it could make the writing sound less clear and awkward. When selecting a synonym, try the word in the context and ask yourself – does it make sense?

Example

Read this sentence:

Technology is a beneficial tool for staying connected to family and friends who live abroad.

Here is a list of synonyms for the word ‘beneficial’:
advantageous, helpful, valuable, favourable, profitable, good, desirable

If we use the word ‘profitable’ in the sentence, we can check if it suits the context of what is being said:

Technology is a profitable tool for staying connected to family and friends who live abroad.

This sentence sounds awkward as ‘profitable’ is not a precise or accurate word choice for the context of this sentence. Profitable means to make financial gain which doesn’t make sense for what is being said. 

Instead, let’s consider using the synonym ‘valuable’:

Technology is a valuable tool for staying connected to family and friends who live abroad.

This is a much more appropriate word choice as valuable means something that is special or has a lot of worth, which fits the context of the topic well. It is also a better choice than ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ if we are trying to write a more formal essay for a reader who’s marking our work. 

To work on the writing technique of using the right synonyms in the right context, you can access our Free E2 English Quiz

2: Rephrase an Important Idea

We know that repetition leads to boring writing, which can often result in a low scoring assignment or essay. However, repetition actually has an essential place in our writing. In many essays, we will need to repeat our thesis statement or opinion over and over again, to convince our reader of something or highlight a main idea. Learning how to rephrase an idea that needs to be replicated throughout a text is a highly important writing technique, especially for particular essay types, like opinion essays or persuasive texts. 

If you’re writing a persuasive text or opinion essay or any type of writing where you need to repeat an idea or opinion, you will have some sort of thesis statement or sentence that states the main point in a text. 

Here is an example of a thesis statement:

It is evident that technology is making people less interactive.

This type of statement would need to appear at the beginning of your writing but also again throughout your body paragraphs and then finally, in the conclusion. Students often make the mistake of repeating the entire sentence, word for word, over and over again. 

Instead we can use the writing technique of rephrasing to come up with alternative versions of the sentence that still argues the same idea. We can build on the last technique of using synonyms. Rephrasing takes synonyms to the next level where we need to think about a group of words in a different way. One of the writing techniques to do this is to break up the sentence into phrases or groups of words and reword them. Look at the different phrases in the the thesis statement:

‘It is evident that’… ‘technology’… ‘is making people less interactive’.

Here are some alternative phrases for each part of our sentence. See how each phrase can be reimagined:

It is evident that…

  • It is obvious that…
  • It is clear that…
  • It is apparent that… 

…technology…

  • devices
  • IT (information technology)
  • technological inventions
  • the virtual world

…is making people less interactive

  • driving people to be less social
  • creating a society that is more socially isolated
  • disconnecting us from one another
  • affecting authentic human relationships and communication

Now it is possible to have different versions of our original thesis statement that are formed with the alternative phrases we came up with. Here are a few different variations of the thesis statement:

It is obvious that devices are driving people to be less social. 
It is clear that IT is affecting authentic human relationships and communication. 
It is apparent that technological inventions are creating a society that is more socially isolated. 

Using alternative phrases helps us reduce repetition but can also enrich the description in our writing as well. When we rephrase an important idea, it forces us to be creative and come up with varied ways to communicate an idea. 

3: Reorder Sentences

Another form of repetition is when writers have a group of sentences that begin in the same way, one after the other. With this type of repetition, they not only use the same sentence structure, but also start their sentence with the exact same words. This is a common thing that teachers see in writing, which can be fixed with reordering and sentence variation, another excellent writing technique to practise. 

Below is an example of a paragraph that does this type of repetition. You can see a few sentences that begin in the same way. 

The overuse of our devices can create a sense of disconnection from the real world. Many people are often glued to their mobile phones while walking down the street or sitting at a cafe, instead of engaging in the physical world around them. Many people are beginning to prioritise their virtual interactions over in-person connections. This is causing our society to become more antisocial. Many individuals are socially isolating themselves by signalling they are not interested in real life conversations.

There are three sentences that start with either ‘Many people are…’ or ‘Many individuals are…’ which can cause the reader to become bored and irritated by the repetition, regardless of how great the ideas are. What writing techniques can we use to change this? 

The first sentence that begins with ‘Many people are’ is a complex sentence because it has a main clause and a subordinate clause. We can swap the order of these clauses around so it reads better:

Reorder Sentence: Swap Clauses of a Complex Sentence

Now the sentence does not start in the same way and instead begins with a dependent or subordinate clause. 

The next sentence is a simple sentence because it has one main or independent clause. We can insert a subordinate or dependent clause at the beginning, ‘Without realising,’ and change ‘many people’ to the pronoun ‘we’. Of course, we can’t forget to change the ‘their’ to ‘our’ so it makes sense.

Here is the improved version:

Reorder Sentence: Insert Subordinate Clause

It sounds much better! 

The final sentence that repeats is a complex sentence. We can swap the clauses around again to create variation. We can also omit, or take out, the word ‘many’ because it was already used earlier in the paragraph. Here is the reordered version:

Reorder Sentence: Swap Clauses of a Complex Sentence

Now read the new and improved paragraph aloud so you can hear how it is more interesting and dynamic to read:

The excessive use of our devices can create a sense of disconnection from the real world. Instead of engaging in the physical world around them, many people are often glued to their cellphones while walking down the street or sitting at a cafe. Without realising, we are beginning to prioritise our virtual interactions over in-person connections. This is causing our society to become more antisocial. By signalling they are not interested in real life conversations, individuals are socially isolating themselves.

As you can see, reordering sentences also builds on the writing technique of sentence variation. You need to know how to write simple, compound and complex sentences so that it is easier to swap clauses around or add clauses in, where necessary. By using this skill, not only are you decreasing repetitive sentence starters, but you’re also showcasing your skills in using a variety of grammatical structures. 

4: Use Pronouns

This last of the writing techniques is one of the simplest ways to avoid repetition. When we are writing, there will often be repeated words or key nouns that get duplicated throughout the text. The use of pronouns will make the sentences more concise and easier to read. In some high stakes English tests, this skill is also called referencing because you refer back to the idea without repeating the same word.

Here is a list of pronouns that can be used instead of nouns or the names of people or things. This list does not include all pronouns, it just showcases a few common ones: he, she, it, them, they, we, him, her, this, that, these, those…

When substituting pronouns for nouns, it is important to choose the right pronoun because an unclear pronoun will make your writing confusing. Have a look at the example below:

People should consider how much people use technology.

If we replaced the second ‘people’ in the sentence with the pronoun ‘we’, it would sound awkward:

People should consider how much we use technology.

The correct pronoun to use here is ‘they’.

People should consider how much they use technology.

Here is another example of repeated nouns:

Technology has both positive and negative consequences because technology can connect us to people far away while also distracting us from real life. To tackle the technology problem, we should consider having a limit on our screen time.

In the first sentence, the key noun ‘technology’ has been repeated twice. We can replace the second ‘technology’ with the pronoun ‘it’. The word ‘technology’ is used again in the beginning of the second sentence. We can change ‘the technology problem’ by using a pronoun so it instead reads as ‘this problem’. Here is the improved version:

Technology has both positive and negative consequences because it can connect us to people far away while also distracting us from real life. To tackle this problem, we should consider having a limit on our screen time.

It flows well now, doesn’t it?

Using pronouns is a simple and effective way to reduce unnecessary repetition in writing. However, you must remember to always double check that the pronouns agree with the original noun. You can do this by reading your writing aloud to make sure that it flows well. 

The more you regularly work on your writing, the more these writing techniques will become a part of your practice. A great place to start is our Free E2 English Quiz, which can help you to understand how to use synonyms in the right context.

As always, if you are looking for expert feedback, especially for a high stakes English exam, be sure to sign up to E2testprep.com, where our experienced teachers and ex-examiners can help you to improve your writing! 

More Help and Techniques to Improve Your English Essay Writing

Need more help and techniques to improve your English essay writing? We have you covered! For help with general English essay writing, head to E2testprep.com and sign up for FREE to access method lessons, practice items, live classes with expert teachers and more. In the Shop you will also find E2English, which is our full range of General English courses for whatever level you need. We have everything you need to help you quickly improve your language level and achieve success on your next high stakes essay or writing assignment.

You can also check out our Top Ten English Essay Writing Tips here to help you quickly improve your writing skills.

Author Bio: 

E2 is the world’s leading test preparation provider and General English course provider. Our expert teachers are fully accredited English teachers, with TESOL, British Council or other relevant certification, and years of English teaching experience. 

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