With one eye on the word count, and another on the deadline, content writers sometimes forget the famous axiom, “Variety is the spice of life.” And nothing screams for variety more than repetitive sounds or, God forbid, repetitive words in a single sentence.
Alliteration — the repetitive use of sounds or words — can be used to great effect, especially in literary works or poetry. Artfully done, it can even add power and impact to a journalistic piece. Some famous examples include Edgar Allen Poe’s immortal line, “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,” and John F. Kennedy’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
The problem is not with alliteration itself, it comes when the writer, perhaps late at night, with sleepy head nodding, uses it carelessly, or, worst of all, unintentionally. Then the results become cringe worthy. Those repeating syllables start to tug at the reader’s ear, drawing the mind away from the content it’s trying to absorb. Like a beautiful Persian rug with an unsightly snag, the artistry of the whole is lost when the eye is drawn repeatedly to those few loose threads. And like the rug, in writing, those extra words must be clipped or the whole will suffer.
Not convinced? Are you thinking, “Can it really be that bad? Comparing web content and Persian rugs is a little melodramatic, don’t you think?” Perhaps, but consider the following; real life examples from my own work that were — I swear! — rigorously excised before they were sent to paying clients:
“Keep your customers informed with the latest information.”
“Differing opinions can be quite different.”
“Balancing your checkbook is easy once you’ve learned to balance your checkbook.”
“Apparently, the mistake wasn’t apparent.”
The ever popular, “It can be hard to conceptualize such different concepts.”
And my personal favorite, “The law was never changed, unnecessarily necessitating extra paperwork.”
While most of these mistakes can be chalked up to those bleary-eyed hours hunched over the computer, there is a trickery kind. When two concepts sound the same, but mean something completely different, the mind can see them as so separate, it will drag the ear right along with it. Consider this little gem:
“The first piece of advice a financial advisor is likely to give is to open a savings account.”
Advice is intangible – words that vanish into thin air. An advisor is a living, breathing human being, sitting right there across the desk from you, wearing wire-framed glasses and too much cologne. Just how different can two terms be? To the reader’s ear, not different enough. Find another word.
I hope this baring of my literary soul has been informative. But, lastly, I would leave you with one last piece of advice. Remember to remember when choosing word choices to mix up the mixture. Readers reading your copy will be grateful you re-read your copy. And so will you.
Kate C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.