In regards to writing, Kurt Vonnegut is often quoted as saying, “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” It’s good advice, and is one of the reasons that I persistently caution writers to avoid redundancy in their prose. When you repeat yourself unnecessarily, you are wasting the time of your audience and insulting their intelligence. Redundant writing is weak writing.
With that in mind, I’d like to point out a particular word arrangement that often leads to redundancy in writing. It is this: “[blank] of [blank].”
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this particular construction—it is a very basic and useful pattern that we all use every day. “A cup of milk.” “The Tree of Life.” “The fifth of November.” Even Vonnegut used it in his advice above: “the time of a total stranger.”
This construction can become redundant, however, when the first blank is filled with some sort of category and the second blank is filled with a specific word from within that category: “[category] of [part of category].”
Here are some examples:
As Opal walked past the window, she heard the sound of a clatter outside.
Quinn was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness.
Edik slumped to the floor, an expression of sorrow etched upon his face.
A clatter is a type of sound, a rattling series of noises. Therefore, to label it as a sound in your writing is unnecessary. It’s like saying “he wrote a sentence of words.”
Here’s those examples with the redundancy removed:
As Opal walked past the window, she heard a clatter outside.
Quinn was suddenly overwhelmed with happiness.
Edik slumped to the floor, sorrow etched upon his face.
Note that this is not a universal rule—sometimes, the construction [category] of [part of category] is useful or necessary. For example:
“Which shade of blue best matches my eyes?”
This sentence wouldn’t work well if that phrase were shortened. “Which shade best matches my eyes?” would be grammatically correct but lacks specificity, while “Which blue best matches my eyes?” feels odd because blue is an adjective but is being used as a noun. Shade of blue is the best way to go.