7 Sentences Energized by Elegant Variation
In one of the most recent tugs-of-war between qualitative practice and quantitative practicality, search engine optimization has been eroding the exalted status of time-honored elegant variation, the convention of avoiding wearying repetition of words throughout a sentence or a passage.
One of the principles of SEO, the suite of strategies for shaping online content to enhance its searchability, is that keywords, when repeated, strengthen the likelihood that a search will call up a particular piece of content. But let’s not allow that admittedly valid goal to be so scrupulously employed as to deaden the language. Here are some repetition-riddled sentences followed by elegant fixes:
1. “Finding a job at 55 is much harder than finding a job in your 40s.”
Sentences like this aren’t wrong; they’re just a bit flat, and it doesn’t take much to pep them up a bit: “Finding a job at 55 is much harder than landing one in your 40s.”
2. “There’s a preponderance of knowledge workers working as contract workers.”
Save some work with synonyms: “There’s a preponderance of knowledge workers employed as contractors.”
3. “The company is launching a new shelter magazine aimed at women in their 30s, while American Media is developing a shelter magazine for women in their 20s and 30s.”
Two pairs of duplicate usage spiff up this sentence: “The company is launching a new shelter magazine aimed at thirtysomething women, while American Media is developing a home-themed title for those in their 20s and 30s.”
4. “New Jersey’s cops stopped doing consent searches, in which a cop asks a driver for permission to search the driver’s vehicle.”
That sentence sports a tired trifecta. Not only is repetition of cop a cop-out, but it doesn’t take much effort to search for another word for search and summon the drive to replace a repeat of drive: “New Jersey’s cops stopped doing consent searches, in which a police officer asks a driver for permission to look around in the motorist’s vehicle.”
5. “He said he was afraid to listen to President Bush’s speech because he was “afraid Bush would announce he was going to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment.”
I’m afraid that the reappearance of afraid is diminished by its previous use: “He said he was reluctant to listen to President Bush’s speech because he was “afraid Bush would announce he was going to repeal the Fourteenth Amendment.”
6. “Administrators requested waivers for regular students, special-education students, adult students, and students in continuation schools.”
Send this writer back to school to come up with some other words for students: “Administrators requested waivers for regular students, special-education pupils, adult learners, and kids in continuation schools.
7. “When Brubeck chauffeured Milhaud, who didn’t drive, to the 1947 premiere, the composer drove the young musician to, as he said, ‘be true to your instincts’ and ‘sound like who you really are.’”
Oh, my. The writer deftly employed chauffeured to achieve elegant variation in the literal sense of operating a car but then crashed farther down the road. Using two meanings of the same word (or even separate tense inflections) is a collision of comprehension: “When Brubeck chauffeured Milhaud, who didn’t drive, to the 1947 premiere, the composer pushed the young musician to, as he said, ‘be true to your instincts’ and ‘sound like who you really are.’”
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