Useful vs Useless Redundancy

There’s a section in the greeting card store for “New Baby” cards.
I’m not sure what other kinds of babies are available.
Seth’s Blog

Future/advance planning. Past experience. Collaborate together. Necessary requirement. SIN number (although that’s in a different category).  Even as I deliberately type those to make a point, I feel my right hand getting twitchy, reaching for a long-gone red pen.

It’s a space-time continuum thing. There is no space in proposals for useless redundancies. There is no time in review schedules, either: Don’t evaluators already have enough to read?

Omit needless words.

That’s one of the first and sturdiest rules of editing. And yet.

Communication is hard. In conversation, people might not hear everything we say; in a proposal, they might not read every word we write. There is some balance between succinctness and reliability.

In English speech, we say things like “Those three men” which “marks” the plurality of the men in all three words. In proposal writing, we add headings — to sections and to bullets — that alert the reader to our point. Which we then go on to make. Again.

We add pull-out text boxes to highlight the benefits that we’ve just explained.

And yes, we tighten up sentences and paragraphs to eliminate rampant wordiness, but we also leave just enough wordiness that the reader doesn’t need to puzzle-out our meaning. Doesn’t need to parse every sentence with care.

And there’s one other thing about apparent redundancies. On drives through the countryside in the early spring, my mother always exclaimed over the baby lambs. We kids would all laugh. Echoing Seth, long before Seth, we demanded:

What other kind of lambs are there?

Hahaha. And yet. Of all the smart-alecks in the car, she was the only one who had grown up on a farm.  She was the only one who had watched lambing, and held a lamb, baby or otherwise, in her arms. She was — and I can say it safely now that she’s gone — right. There are lambs and there are baby lambs. Using that language marked *her* as someone who had farm experience. And isn’t that credible communication of experience, that effortless communication of familiarity, a big part what we’re trying to do in our proposals?

Of course it is.

And just to circle back to Seth’s point, although there are no old babies available, there *are* babies and new babies. Newborns, we might call them if we were searching for the standard terminology rather than the standard colloquialism among, you know, new parents and those congratulating them. But we’d do well to be sure that our editors aren’t stripping out the very jargon and expressions that mark us as people who understand the work because we’ve done the work. That we are people who know all about baby lambs.

 

2 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    Fact: our granddaughter was left on a doorstep. But let me add some additional facts. Left on the doorstep of a mission. In Ethiopia.Still had her umbilical cord attached. Unnecessary information, in some senses — those bits don’t change the basic fact. But they sure colour it.

    I’ll be interested (especially interested, at the risk of a redundant word) in your reactions to my column this weekend about Amanda Gorman’s poem.

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Yes, which facts are seen as pertinent and which as redundant is a judgement call, varying (especially) with the purpose of the communication.

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