It doesn’t matter whether you’re a student or a professional, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of repeating certain words and phrases. For example:
Christopher Columbus is known for the discovery of North America, but he thought he had discovered the Indies. Of course, the Vikings are also said to be the discoverers of the American continent, but the Native Americans were really the first to discover the area.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the usage in this instance, but the repetition of such similar words interrupts the flow of the writing. Proofreaders can provide fresh eyes to help spot such repetitions.
A few phrases to use sparingly:
- In fact: Indeed, some question whether “in fact” should be used at all since if it is a fact, it really shouldn’t need stated! My feeling is that it’s okay to use as an occasional rhetorical device, with “occasional” being the key word to keep in mind.
- It is interesting/intriguing to note that …: First, I think it’s great when the reason for something being “interesting” is explained. However, using this phrase (or something similar) word-for-word multiple times can be tiresome. Try to vary your statements: “One item of interest is …”, “A result of particular interest …”, “The results highlighted a number of intriguing possibilities…”, etc.
- On one hand/on the other: I have already discussed how this phrase is misused, but some writers are so enamoured of it that their papers have more hands than a football team. Use these terms for opposing phrases, and use them occasionally.
- In other words: There is nothing wrong with saying something a slightly different way, or using the opportunity to be informal; in other words, this can be a very useful phrase. However, if you are using “in other words” quite often, perhaps you should think about rewriting your original words to say exactly what you mean.
Be aware of your own idiolect: An idiolect is not an insult, but rather the language habits of a particular individual (vs. a dialect, which is used by a subset of a population). Know the words and phrases that you tend to repeat and try to cut back on them. For example, if you know that you rely on the phrase “On the other hand …”, make sure you do a search for it before finishing your document and change it accordingly.