Tautology – saying the same thing twice or more – is one of the standout features of business writing. There are three main reasons that it’s so prevalent: it’s often used for emphasis, it’s easier than rewriting or finding a better word, and it’s a sure sign that the writer hasn’t thought hard about what they’re saying.
Here’s a classic example of using tautology for emphasis, from a major utility company:
“One of our key priorities is to be number one for customer service.”
Somehow for this writer, priority just didn’t sound important enough.
Similarly (and coincidentally from another utility company), we have this:
“Delivering the highest levels of service is a primary focus.”
Focus does sound limp here but it’s easier to use a tautology than to find a better word or rewrite the sentence.
Here’s one from the world of local government:
“Employees and Members of the Council are encouraged to establish and maintain positive, helpful and friendly relationships with all of our customers.”
Presumably whoever wrote this could imagine relationships that were positive but unhelpful or negative but friendly.
The next one you’ll see all over the place. This time it’s a major accountancy firm that’s to blame:
“A turbulent summer of sovereign debt crises in the US and Europe, sharp equity market falls and signs of slowing growth around the world, are affecting the future prospects for the world and UK economies.”
At least they were clear that it’s future prospects they’re talking about, otherwise how would we have known?
Here are two more you’ll see all the time, both from FTSE 100 companies. There’s something about corporate responsibility that encourages this sort of thing:
“Our size and scale give us a big responsibility.”
“It’s also about supporting and helping the communities where we work, and being a good neighbour.”
Finally, a stinker from one of our largest law firms. This one must have been dreamt up by committee:
“They include meeting obligations to publish data on our people demographics.”
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Photo by William Clifford