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Repetition in journal articles

Repetition in journal articles


Many authors and researchers worry that their writing is too repetitive, but repetition can be a useful tool when used correctly. It is important in developing academic manuscripts, benefits readers, and is encouraged (in appropriate contexts) by editors and publishers.

Repeating key words and phrases throughout a manuscript is a good way to link ideas, making sure that each point relates to the core argument of the paper. This repetition sharpens the focus of the manuscript and results in a more cohesive article: the author is less likely to stray off-topic, and it is easier for the reader to follow the author’s argument as it builds towards a conclusion [EASE, 2015;http://www.ease.org.uk/publications/author-guidelines, accessed 6 June 2016].

However, there is a fine line between effective and unnecessary repetition. The European Association of Science Editors (EASE) advises that ‘Information given in one section preferably should not be repeated in other sections’ [EASE, 2015; http://www.ease.org.uk/publications/author-guidelines, accessed 6 June 2016]. In practice, this means you should not make the same point or argument more than once per article unless it adds value. The key to using repetition effectively is to ensure that it adds something to the manuscript. Repetition that reinforces an argument or supports a new idea, as described above, is useful and helps both the author and the reader. Repeating text and data without adding value only serves to add length, something that can annoy readers (who have to waste time reading unnecessary text) and imples that the author has not researched or planned their paper in sufficient detail and must reuse material to fill space. It can also be problematic if there are word count limits for the article type.

As an author, you should use repetition sparingly when writing your conclusions. Although it is important to restate the hypothesis and summarize your evidence, you should avoid repeating what has already been said. Instead, you should reintroduce your hypothesis (without quoting it directly) before giving a brief summary of the key points that have been made as a result of your research findings.

Some journals also expect authors to discuss the implications of their conclusion or suggest possibilities for further research. Check the journal guidelines and other papers to see if including this information is appropriate – doing so is a good way to develop a conclusion without relying on reusing content.

Most other forms of repetition are unnecessary and can easily be avoided. If a manuscript makes frequent references to a long scientific name or organization, it is good practice to introduce an abbreviation at first use and then use said abbreviation for the rest of the article [EASE, 2015; http://www.ease.org.uk/publications/author-guidelines, accessed 6 June 2016].

You should also consider whether figures and tables are unnecessarily repetitive. EASE recommends that authors should be careful not to include data in a figure if they have already been shown in a table (and vice versa) [EASE, 2015; http://www.ease.org.uk/publications/author-guidelines, accessed 6 June 2016], and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) advises that authors should not ‘repeat all the data in the tables or figures in the text’, and should instead ‘emphasize or summarize only the most important observations’ [ICMJE, 2015; www.icmje.org/icmje-recommendations.pdf, accessed 6 June 2016].

In addition to repeating text and data in a single manuscript, authors should also be mindful of industry expectations when it comes to repeating text and data from published work in new material. Repetition of this nature can lead to self-plagiarism, but is acceptable if properly cited and used to support new ideas and arguments. You can also reuse text and data if you are creating a secondary publication aimed at a different group of readers than the first publication and have the approval of the editors of both journals [EASE, 2015; http://www.ease.org.uk/publications/author-guidelines, accessed 6 June 2016].


Do you have any questions about repetition? Charlesworth Author Services can help. Please contact us at asktheeditors@cwauthors.com or helpdesk@cwauthors.com.

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