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In technical writing, I have a tic of writing in pairs. Some examples from a recent piece:

  • "When you speak, be sure to be clear and concise."
  • "Face to face conversation is personal and private."
  • "Great communicators know how to provide the right degree of guidance and structure.

I'd like to get better at editing out these tics (or at least making them less prevalent), but I struggle because I want to use the pair to draw out shades of meaning. For instance, in the last example, great communicators provide guidance to the recipients about what the audience should think, but they also provide structure in how the audience will get there, organizing the thinking process along the way.

Are there any suggestions for how to work on this tic?

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    This isn't a comment on your question, but given your handle, can I recommend to you the philosophy SE? – Chris Sunami Aug 28 '15 at 14:51
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When I'm editing technical documentation (and, ideally, when I'm writing it in the first place), I try to make every word earn its place. If both words in your phrases need to be there to make your point, then don't worry about it -- that's not a tic but the writing process.

In the case of pairs (or larger groups) of descriptive adjectives or nouns, sometimes you don't need more than one. When you see yourself doing this, stop and ask if there is a single word that conveys what you mean, either one of these or a different, encompassing word. I know you said you want the nuance in your last example, but let's look at it again:

Great communicators know how to provide the right degree of guidance and structure.

Guidance includes structure, so I think you could safely remove "and structure" there. (It's hard to say without seeing this in context.) If you want to call out some nuance of providing structure, you could do that separately.

Sometimes you do need both but they don't need to be in the same sentence. For example, you write:

Face to face conversation is personal and private.

That's true, but why are you telling the reader this? Are you going to follow that sentence with something about personal interaction and something about privacy? If so, do you need this sentence too? Sometimes the answer is yes, you want the sentence as an introduction -- but ask yourself the question because sometimes the answer is no.

The first step in changing any unwanted writing pattern is noticing that you're doing that. You've done that. The next step is attacking them on a case-by-case basis as I've suggested here. In time you should find yourself adapting your writing style, so instead of editing them out you'll write fewer of them in the first place.

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Try expanding the adjectives into more fleshed-out clauses. That will keep them from being right next to each other and creating that "X and Y" structure that you're noticing, as well as allowing you the chance to more fully explore the shades of meaning that you say is your intent.

"When you speak, be sure to be clear and concise."

When speaking, take care to explain your points fully while not sacrificing brevity.

"Face to face conversation is personal and private."

Face to face conversations not only increase privacy, when that is a concern, but also create a personal connection that is lost through electronic communication.

"Great communicators know how to provide the right degree of guidance and structure.

While a good communicator can guide their audience to a particular conclusion, a great communicator will also provide a structured framework of thinking to allow the audience to reach that same conclusion on their own.

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    I'd caution against using this in final text, since it's basically a way of padding the writing. However, it's a good exercise to examine the implications of paired descriptive words. – Neil Fein Aug 28 '15 at 15:37
  • It depends on whether or not the following sentence(s) would have further expounded on the points anyway. In such cases, it could be better to combine those explanations into the initial sentence as I've done here. – Roger Aug 31 '15 at 13:18
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This doesn't seem to me like a serious problem, it's just a part of your own personal writing style. Even in technical writing, you don't necessarily want to edit all individuality out of what you produce. My advice would be only to resist the impulse to add this in places where it isn't really necessary or helpful.

Personally, I like your parallelism. It has a certain elegance.

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It depends on what you are trying to say. For example, concise writing is not always clear and clear language is not always concise. Saying both is in that border area between tic and idiom.

For the record, you're not alone in this habit. If you read any legal writing, this repetitive style of writing is all over the place. 'Will and Testament.' 'Crimes and Misdemeanors.' 'Cease and desist.' It dates back to the days when most law was still conducted in Latin (or French, heaven help us). Lawyers would use both the English and Latin terms for "clarity."

Doesn't help your problem, but an interesting fact, nonetheless. If it helps, just pretend you're speaking French.

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Try to focus on writing in the active tense more often. This forces you to change your entire sentence structure.

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    I don't think any of the examples I gave are in passive voice. – philosophyguy Aug 28 '15 at 12:54
  • While it could be argued that "Face to face conversation is personal and private" is approaching passive voice, it'd be a stretch. I'm not sure what Tracy is saying here. – Neil Fein Aug 28 '15 at 15:38

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