Redundancy, Reiteration, and Repetition—there’s a critical difference between making sure your message is purposefully apparent in every facet of your work (reiteration) and restating that message verbatim at every opportunity until it gets in the reader’s way or insults their intelligence (redundancy).
Whether you write in a technical capacity like web content and print materials (think client-targeted brochures, newsletters, mailers, etc.) or creatively for pleasure, reiteration is important. You want your readers to know what you’re about. Keep like items or topics together to avoid redundant menu labeling, but feel free to creatively reiterate important info when necessary.
Consider this situation:
You are the writer for your company’s website. There are ten tabs on the site menu, each leading to different groups of information. All of that information still relates back to the same central theme, idea, product, whatever. As the writer, you nod toward that unifying topic on each page in some way. This is good. After all, what if page seven of ten is the only page a particular client visits? What if page four of ten is the one that shows up in a Google search? The customer may look at that page only when coming to your site. Prepare for the possibility and probability that any individual page on your site is the only page your reader sees. Are they going to know what your company is all about?
However, and I cannot stress this enough, copying your mission statement, slogan, company motto, sales pitch, etc. verbatim on each page is not the way to make sure that reader gets the message. Remember how I said you must consider that they may only see one out of ten pages? They might also see all ten. So if you’ve been redundant instead of informative, find a way to rephrase that enables you to stay true to your purpose without insulting your reader’s intelligence.
Another effective way to make sure your reader gets the whole message is to encourage your audience to take a look at the rest of your site (or any other publication). Give them an incentive, give them motivation, and give them something to look forward to. Every writer must decide for herself what those incentives, motivations, and exciting features will be. For some, it might be giveaways and contests. For others, it might simply be good-natured or humorous instruction to do so. Consider your niche and your audience when deciding. Not every method will work for every reader or writer. Also, give readers easy navigation to those additional pages; i.e. Back to Top buttons, Home Page link on every page, sentences with links to other pages written in.
Let’s diverge, now. Did you notice what I did up there? “Give them an incentive, give them motivation, and give them something to look forward to.” That’s neither redundancy, nor reiteration. That is repetition. In this instance, it is also an example of isocolon—the repetition of entire grammatical structures within a sentence. You can reuse entire grammatical structures consecutively in order to create emphasis on an idea. This is a great technique for all writing. If you take the time to say something more than once in the same sentence or paragraph, most readers will realize it is something important.
Just remember, these three concepts are not the same as summarizing. For long academic or technical documents in which a final culmination of ideas is necessary for reader understanding, restating the message in a condensed way is almost always an appropriate means of wrapping up.
For more tips on web content, technical writing, and editing for business documents, check out Mike Markel’s book Technical Communication 9th edition or newer.