It is more than true that we don’t write like we speak. When we submit an article, we read it over and over again to make sure it’s correct. Whereas when we talk we just spit random words and we can correct ourselves after a mistake.
The same happens to readers. If they don’t understand something during a conversation, they can’t press the rewind button and listen to it again. In contrast, reading gives you the opportunity to go back in the text and re-read those parts that were not clear.
So why does the repeating technique even exist in texts?
Basically, because it’s really useful and powerful. And here’s why.
Reason 1: readers can be lazy
Let’s be honest. We don’t like everything we read. And as human being, there are days in which we feel tired or we just don’t feel like reading but we do it anyway. Result? We see some letters on a piece of paper or on the screen but we don’t absorb any knowledge.
It may happen sometimes that we don’t understand what we read and we just keep reading. We don’t stop, ask ourselves what’s going on and go back in the text. That’s what we should do, of course, but we’re humans. Thus, not perfect. If we’re having a bad day our concentration won’t be in the text we’re reading.
What can a writer do in order to call the reader’s attention? Repeat. And if there’s a warning beforehand then much better. Here’s an example:
“No one on earth knew that her name was Julia. Do you understand that? No one on earth, no one”.
Reason 2: emphasis
Forget about capital letters, exclamation marks and underlining. All those are useful, yes. But the reader will go through them only once. If you write the same thing one more time, you’re forcing the reader to read it again. They have no choice!
Can you tell the difference between…
He earned $500 on his first month on Medium.
He earned $500 on his first month on Medium. Yes, $500 in just 30 days.
Reading twice is always better than reading once. It’s like studying: the more you repeat it, the more you learn.
Reason 3: guiding the reader
This one applies for longer and more complicated texts, but could be used in short articles, too.
Whether it’s a chronological structure, a step-by-step guide or a hard-to-understand story, the reader may need some help.
Some things are more important than others and they must be brought up during the reading in order to get the most out of the text. How to help the reader? You guessed: by repeating.
Here are some tricks you can use:
- When giving steps, remind a previous step if necessary.
- Story full of characters? Repeat some details about them when they become important. Example: if they’re a killer, remind their violent childhood.
- In a timeline, remind facts that link between them. Example: “Alfred became president in 1994. And four years earlier he’d lost the elections!”
Repeating doesn’t mean redundancy
I’ve been to a journalism college. Before that, I tended to believe that repeating words in a text was bad, so I had to use synonyms. In college I’ve learnt that sometimes there’s no option but to repeat.
One most be careful: you must not repeat just because. Only if it’s worth it. Imagine a text full of paragraphs with the same words. Can be boring, but used well can be a magnificent piece of writing.
Some books I’ve read (mostly self-help books) use this technique. And they use it a lot.
After reading an interesting paragraph, the author may write “That’s important, let’s read again”, and just copy and paste exactly the same thing. And that’s extremely powerful! I can tell you by experience that that does work.
So remember. Don’t overuse it, but consider it when you need to make things clear.