We tell you the importance of tight editing all the time.
We tell you lean writing is powerful and effective.
We tell you it just plain works better.
Except when it doesn’t.
Consider these common terms:
- An “ATM machine” is an automatic teller machine machine.
- The “HIV virus” is the human immunodeficiency virus virus.
- A “PIN number” is a personal identification number number.
You see these acronym “mistakes” all the time, from storefronts, to mainstream media, to communications from financial institutions. Are these writers just clueless?
Check out these other common expressions:
- added bonus
- end result
- future plans
- unconfirmed rumor
- past history
- safe haven
- potential hazard
- completely surrounded
- false pretense
In each case, 50% of the words used are technically unnecessary. But are they truly unnecessary?
The Paradox of “Free Gift”
The best example of why avoiding redundancy can hurt you instead of help is the common use of “free gift” in promotions. A gift is, by definition, free.
That kind of redundancy must be bad writing, right?
Except when split-tested, “free gift” has historically outperformed “gift” alone. So when it comes to writing that works, ruthless brevity is not always a good thing – and why the technically redundant “free gift” remains so popular.
Remember, brevity means using no more words than necessary, not necessarily fewer words. If redundancy works better in certain instances (determined by testing), those words become necessary, and perhaps even essential, to the success of a message.
In other words, eliminating necessary words is not actual brevity at all.
The Understood Message Converts
This may drive some purists crazy. Redundancy, however, remains a linguistically valid way of increasing the effectiveness of a message. In any case where repetition actually aids in meaning and understanding, it’s not tautology (or needless redundancy); it’s actually a good thing.
Don’t assume people best understand you based on your own linguistic logic. It’s a noisy world out there, and the best copy educates people in a way that the brain finds easy to digest.
Sometimes, better copy has you technically repeating yourself. Or saying the same thing twice, if you will.
About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.
P.S. If you think split-testing is a pain, you haven’t tried Premise. Create great landing pages with WordPress, get loads of built-in copywriting advice, and split-test your words with ease. Find out more here.