Creating Flow via Repetition

Writers enhance flow by repeating key words or phrases in a text to invoke recall and pathos.


Repetition is key to improving a paragraph’s flow, connecting related ideas and keeping the reader on track. Still, there is a difference between obvious and boring repetition and intriguing and effective repetition.

Consider this paragraph:

My brother is older and he has always been protective of me. One way that I can see that he is protective is that he always has my back and protects me from any danger. One time, I was getting picked on by some bullies at school, and he came to my rescue and defended me from them. My big brother is awesome because he always protects me from everything. Sometimes, though, that’s not always the best thing, either.

This paragraph stays on topic, but the repetition is boring, not effective. The writer uses the same words (protect, protective, protector, etc.), and states that this behavior has occurred, but offers no real specific examples.

Consider this revision:

My older brother has always protected me; I know that he will keep me safe from danger. When I was bullied on the way to school, my brother rearranged his schedule so that he could walk me there, shielding me from abuse with his hulking presence and the silent threat emanating from his glowering expression. The kids who had been picking on me quickly learned to stay away from me because they knew I had a brother who would be happy to defend my honor–with his fists, if necessary. Though it never came to a physical fight, I know that my brother was happy to keep his little sister safe back then–and he will continue to protect me in the years to come.

This has more details, clearly, but it also has better flow because the ideas stack on top of one another, adding more depth with each detail while staying focused on the same idea. The ideas are repeated effectively–but not verbatim. The writer has varied the vocabulary here (protected, safe from danger, shielding, defend my honor, safe, protect). The paragraph begins and ends with the same idea–protection–so readers can follow without difficulty.

See how the ideas are repeated in this revision:

My older brother has always protected me; I know that he will keep me safe from danger. When I was bullied on the way to school, my brother rearranged his schedule so that he could walk me there, shielding me from abuse with his hulking presence and the silent threat emanating from his glowering expression. The kids who had been picking on me quickly learned to stay away from me because they knew I had a brother who would be happy to defend my honor–with his fists, if necessary. Though it never came to a physical fight, I know that my brother was happy to keep his little sister safe back then–and he will continue to protect me in the years to come.

The words in bold effectively repeat the main idea of the paragraph without being boring.