Consider the following examples, found via online search:

  • “As far as skilled labor is concerned only 9 percent stated that it was easy to find now, while 59 percent said it was difficult. Three years before 1991, the percentages were 8 and 61, respectively….”
  • “The authors are from Harvard University, Harvard University, Harvard University, and University of Chicago respectively.”
  • “What proportions of Africa and Australia respectively are desert?”

The word respectively is commonly overused and misused. Some writers probably haul it out because it sounds impressive. But it can be confusing and irritating. It forces the reader to backtrack and figure out which reference is which.

That’s what’s likely to happen to readers of the first example above. A simple solution would have been to state that, in the earlier study, 8 percent said it was easy and 61 percent said it was difficult.

The repetition in the second example sounds like a joke, though most likely an unintended one. Better: “The first three authors are from Harvard University; the last is from the University of Chicago.” Or better still, attach the names.

In some instances, the word is superfluous. That’s the case in the final example, where respectively serves no purpose and can simply be deleted.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.

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