When to be Redundant, Repetitive, and
Say the Same Thing Twice

Repetition

Remember your fifth grade “What I did on my summer vacation” paper, where you used the words “pool,” “baseball” and “bike” 100 times apiece? And your English teacher dutifully marked your paper up with her red pen. Redundant. Don’t repeat yourself. Choose a new word.

Bloggers sometimes get so fearful about repeating ourselves that our message can get completely lost. The truth is, after fifth grade is over, there are times when you want to repeat yourself to make sure your point comes across. Here’s how you can tell if your content could benefit from a little strategic repetition.

Repeat for clarity

Like it or not, your readers skim. No matter how clearly you expressed yourself the first time, your words may literally not have been seen.

Remember that your content needs to cut through your reader’s dense fog of information clutter, chronic interruption, and recurring fantasies about the hottie three cubicles down. If it’s important, it’s worth repeating. You might also want to call attention to your point with special formatting or at least a subhead.

It’s especially important to repeat calls to action. Whether you want your readers to buy a product, Stumble or Digg your posts, or subscribe to your blog, it pays to repeat yourself.

Repeat for certainty

It’s nice to think that our readers etch everything we write into their brains. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.

To prove this to yourself, go through some of your old bookmarks on Delicious.com. You’ll find terrific, well-written, memorable stuff that you don’t remember ever having read. (Sometimes you find things that you don’t remember having written, which is even weirder.) They made a big impression on you at the time, but then they sank back into the murk of your memory.

Don’t assume your readers got it the first time, or that they still remember it. If you have a powerful or important idea, hit your audience with it more than once.

Different readers also respond to different ways of expressing the same concept. You might write a dozen posts on a key theme, each using a different metaphor. The reader who gets your big idea when you compared it to circus clowns may have been totally in the dark when you contrasted it with Britney Spears’ parenting skills.

Whether you’re speaking to new readers or old hands, it makes sense to repeat key messages every few months or so. Each time you do, you’ll fix those concepts a little more firmly in your readers’ minds. You’ll also find that your thinking gets deeper and richer each time you revisit an important theme.

And don’t forget to link back to your own cornerstone content, so new readers can benefit from the brilliant stuff you’ve already created.

Repeat for comic effect

A running joke can bond readers to you in surprisingly strong ways. It’s the basis of sitcoms, where familiarity with the characters and their (usually stupid) catch phrases becomes deliciously comforting. When Homer says “D’oh!” and Bart follows with “Ay, Caramba!” we aren’t bored, we’re happy.

Consider LOLCats. For most of us, these are patently unfunny the first time we see them. They might cause a (very) mild twitch the second time. But if for some strange reason we get exposed to 15 or 20, a switch gets flipped and suddenly they’re hysterical. And once your brain is wired for the joke, you find yourself saying “Oh Hai!” and “nom nom nom” to your friends until they’re ready to lock you in a closet just to get you to shut up.

The last time I checked, icanhascheezburger.com was #9 in the Technorati top 100, beating out Mashable, Seth’s Blog and yes, even Copyblogger. Recurring jokes, special language and motifs can create a strangely powerful sense of connection for your readers. Ignore the power of the running joke at your peril.

Repeat for poetry

Sometimes you need a little repetition for the music of your piece. Can you imagine Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream marked up by that fifth grade English teacher? The majestic, ringing repetition of “I have a dream” would have been tweaked into “I have a hope,” “I have a fantasy,” and “I have a realistic nocturnal virtual reality event.”

Now most of us aren’t writing at Dr. King’s level, but sometimes your ear will tell you to include some repetition to make your writing swing. Read it aloud, and if you think it works, leave it in.

How much is too much?

This is definitely a technique that can be overused. Repetition works best for calls to action, for content that meets very primal needs (like funny pictures of cats, or porn), and complicated or difficult-to-implement ideas. It doesn’t work especially well for advice we’ve all read a million times, unless you have a cool new way to present it.

And strategic repetition isn’t the same thing as content flab. Repeat yourself for a reason, not just because you’re too lazy to cut pointless redundancy.

Pushing yourself to come up with something entirely new and different every day can lead to a walloping case of writer’s block. Maybe worse, constantly searching for something new can make your content a little shallow.

Don’t be afraid to go deeper, to return to new explorations of the same themes. You may find your message hitting the mark in a whole new way.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Comments

  1. I have a realistic nocturnal virtual reality event.

    Lolz. :)

  2. Good. Good. Good :-)

  3. Thanks for dat “how much is too much?” cos dats wat i wanted to know when i repeat… and boldening of words i need to stress upon will also help right?!?

  4. Great points Sonia.

    I have noticed that repetition, as you’ve said, if executed strategically also manifests confidence in whatever you are trying to convey to your readers. When you are confident about something and when you feel good about something you feel like repeating it whenever it is appropriate.

    But of course repetition should be a complimentary ingredient of your overall presentation.

  5. If executed in the right strategic way I agree that it’s very necessary to include in posts. People are reading so many different things whether articles, ads, billboards, etc. that including valuable repetition will help get the message and point to stick.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  6. Goofy blog palz: I has dem.

    Man, I am playing with all kinds of fire introducing lolspeak into copyblogger. Sorry, Brian, hope I don’t break the blog forever.

  7. I find myself repeating myself way too much, but nice to hear it works well!

  8. Repetition gets annoying after a while. It is ok once and a while though.

  9. I’m afraid I took a while to be taken in by lolcats, but finally succumbed to creating one and published with an accompanying post on networking your washing machine on Sciencetext:

    http://www.sciencetext.com/networking-your-washing-machine.html

  10. So, lolcats and King; I can haz a dream?

  11. Hi Sonia,

    Great post! Just wanted to add to your first and second points: sometimes repetition is good within the same piece. For example, I usually put repetition in my brochure copy. My reasoning is that nobody reads a brochure cover to cover — they pick out certain parts, so you better have your key messages everywhere!

    Also, another thing you touched upon is saying the same thing differently, which always helps. You could say something like “it saves time so you can spend more time with your family”, but that won’t resonate with everyone. So you can add something like “it helps you spend less time, giving you more time on the boat”. Again, the idea is to reach and resonate with as many different types of people as possible as well as repeat your key messages.

    ~Graham

  12. Some German (?) research suggests that one person repeating an opinion 3 times has 90% of the persuasive power of 3 people stating the same thing.

    So repetition helps if you want to convince.

  13. (Couldn’t resist, Sonia)

  14. Oops, the code brackets I used made my comment not show. Let me try again:

    (INVISIBLE COMMENT)

    Couldn’t resist the LOLCatz reference.

    Ironic that by using the GT/LT charactes, my comment really did become invisible …

  15. Ha ha! Dig the invisible comment. You jokester.

    I can haz a dream is my new favorite string of five words.

  16. Great post :) I hate it when people repeat themselves. It’s so annoying. I really hate it.

  17. That really annoying ad from ‘Head-On’ is proof repeating yourself is effective! Who could forget that name? Great post :)

  18. I enjoyed this post. And, I encourage you to repeat it – with variations – throughout the year.

    Yes, my fifth-grade teacher did tell me not to use the same word in the same sentence /paragraph. Somehow, I took that to mean “never.”

    I would like to believe that my fifth-grade teacher was encouraging me to “stretch” for a different word. So, I don’t repeat the same word unless it serves one of the strategic purposes that you highlight.

    Re: Repeating posts. I admit that I have just recently started to do this. Not verbatim, mind you. Rather, thematically.

    I am maintaining 4 different blogs in addition to my training and speaking engagements. Viewers, readers and clients consistently find me with the same key words. So, rather than trying to come up with a new idea on a new theme each morning I am framing my consistent themed from a different angle.

    This is much easier on me. And, I hope, for my readers.

    Danny Rocks
    http://www.thecompanyrocks.com/blog

  19. Repetition is the mother of all learning. I think I heard that somewhere before.

  20. Tell them what you’re going to tell them.

    Tell them.

    Then, tell them what you told them.

  21. My most important reader is a gentlerobot named Googlebot, and googlebot loves repeated keywords, and so I repeat myself.

  22. This is the first time I read about this topic and you made it interesting to study. However if I may add that repeating what you have just said can annoy others, so I think finding the right timing should be considered.

  23. Sonia, this is pretty powerful stuff. I am impressed. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Sometimes saying same thing in a different way can be best. Because “winners don’t do different things but same things differently”.Anyways thanks for a beautiful article.

  25. I agree with you, but one of your reasons causes me to stumble. Repeat for the person willing to read your post through. Repeat for the person willing to read it twice because it was so well written. Please don’t write for a skimmer, because a skimmer has made a conscious decision to miss things in a rush to get the gist. When the skimmer thinks your post is good enough to slow down and read what you have written through again, he should find well written, tight text that warns him to stop skimming what you write. If he slows down and realizes that you have written for him because your posts are too repetitive, you are encouraging the wrong behavior. You are not respecting your own content to write for him.

  26. I like the way you describe how to repeat the key theme..
    It can attract new and old readers to remember our article..
    I must follow your advice to get a loyal traffic..

  27. Or:
    “Great Copyblogger post on ‘good’ repition, by Sonia Simone”

    Or: Sonia Simone: “It IS ok to repeat your take-away
    phrase so it’s taken away”

    Or:
    This was Hemingway’s gift; repeat simply, for impact

    He mastered relevance through rephrase.

  28. You’re right. Sometimes it’s like hearing an old song for the first time. Other times, it’s like an old song, sung a new way.

    I’ve heard this song before, but I like the way you sang it.

    I’ll remember clarity, certainty, comedy, and poetry … and something about the murk of my memory.

  29. Repeat yourself for a reason, not just because you’re too lazy to cut pointless redundancy.

    This is an important mantra that many people either forget or don’t realize. If there’s no reason for doing anything, don’t do it.

  30. Makes sense that we need to continuously repeat the key message, I skim blogs. I usually read the first paragraph and then the third…

    For normal websites the same would then also be true, tell the visitor the same thing in a different way just to make sure they get it.

  31. que emitie MTV, Y que el canal Mega compro la licencia de realizar una version local de este programa que es un furor tanto en los Estados Unidos como en el resto de Latinoamerica en donde se emite.

    En el primer caputulo emtido ayer al final de la tarde se mostraron tres citas en cuales tuvieron distinta suerte entre ellas, una fue en donde encontraron el amor, la segunda fue en donde las cinco chicas fueron desechadas y la otra fue en donde el tipo no quiso otra cita y prefirio la plata.

    El programa se emitra diariamente a las 18:30 por Mega y en su primer capitulo logro derrotar a la competencia con más de 13.9 puntos de rating logrando un peak de 16.

  32. I loved this post and the comments are cracking me up :)
    But i wanted to say that this post is so true. I think one of the best things you can do to make your blog post or article stick is repeat at the end what all you have said. Often this is all the reader will remember.

  33. Dear Sonia,
    I came across you when you were guesting on Darren Rowse’s blog, and I must say that I like your style of writing. So much so that when I was speaking in London last week at a meeting of music publishers who were interested in learning more about blogging, I mentioned your site. I’ve only been ‘at it’ myself for a few months but find, as an author, that blogging is a very satisfying way of marketing my books. Thanks for all the help (you and Darren) so freely give.
    Mel Menzies, author of A Painful Post Mortem

  34. Because “winners don’t do different things but same things differently”.Anyways thanks for a beautiful article.

  35. On the same topic I’ve written posts with 500 words and 3000 words. Some people prefer the shorter articles; others the longer ones.

    But the core message is reinforced in each post, and each satisfies a different audience.