Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 17 [game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Here’s Challenge Sentence 17, courtesy of Carol Winslow “from those pesky spam emails.”

I have very vital information to give to you, but first I must have your trust before I reveal it to you because it may cause me my job, so I need somebody that I can trust for me to be able to reveal the secret to you.

Your revision: _______________________ [Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, Oct. 2.]

Tips:

Last Week’s Challenge Sentence

In case you’re playing this game for the first time (welcome!), or in case you’ve had other things on your mind since you read last week’s Challenge Sentence, here it is again:

The St. Louis County Police Department was involved in an officer-involved shooting involving a black person.

Read on to hear thoughts from the game’s three judges: Larry Kunz—a seasoned technical writer and blogger who has participated in this game from the beginning—and Ray (my husband) and me.

Larry’s Pick

(Larry Kunz speaking) Such a lovely bit of bureaucratic bafflegab! Each invocation of involve lifts us to a higher level of abstraction, like a rising balloon. Your task last week was to pull the sentence back from the rarefied air of abstraction to something concrete.

Several of you rightly replaced was involved with a single action verb: shot. You not only reduced the word count but also brought the sentence to life.

Most of you also made the officer the subject of the sentence, replacing the department. I like that: now the action verb is attached to a flesh-and-blood person—the officer shot—rather than to a faceless institution, the department.

For those who chose to make the black person the subject—a black person was shot—it’s easy to envision a context in which that emphasis would be appropriate. But with the resulting passive construction, I think we lose some of the tightness we’re looking for.

In my view, Carol Winslow had the best sentence this week. She cut through the Gordian knot of abstraction to leave us with this elegant revision:

A St. Louis County police officer shot a black person.

Kudos to you, Carol. Thanks for involving yourself in the involvement of this game.

Tight Writing winner

How did I arrive at this translation formula? See “Write Tight(er): Get to the Point and Save Millions.”

Ray’s Pick

(Ray Johnston speaking) I’m looking for something like this: A St. Louis County police officer shot a black person. This eliminates the wienie euphemisms was involved in and involving, it introduces nothing not stated in the original, and it presents information in subject-verb-object format: Who did what to whom?

Let’s see the entries.

I disagree with Rhonda [who said, “I don’t think it’s necessary to mention skin colour—it should have no bearing on the fact that an officer was involved in a shooting”].

Carol Winslow? Instant winner? I think so. Let’s continue.

Karen Mulholland gets the runner-up ribbon. The issue for me? I could interpret yet another to mean that this has happened before in St. Louis County; the original does not support this possible interpretation.

Kim Hume has the brevity going on, but the original gives us no reason to infer that the black person was a suspect.

Jennifer gets points, but I can’t pin the blue ribbon on a passive-voice entry when, in this case, the active voice works so well.

Vijji shares the 1st-place prize money with Carol! [They came up with the same revision. See the spreadsheet above.]

Marcia’s Pick

(Marcia Johnston speaking) I appreciate the thought that went into last week’s comments. Here are a few examples:

  • Deborah Bosley and Vijji gave multiple answers. (Of course, many of you had multiple answers in your heads as well as thoughts that you didn’t note. I appreciate your unexpressed thoughts, too.)
  • Rhonda said, “I don’t think it’s necessary to mention skin colour—it should have no bearing on the fact that an officer was involved in a shooting.” I understand this sentiment but acknowledge the role race may play. Which details belong in reporting like this? A lot goes into making that decision responsibly; I leave that debate, for now, to journalists.
  • Jennifer Dawson changed her sentence after realizing that she had assumed the  black person to be a man.

Language that obscures—like the language in last week’s Challenge Sentence—makes accurate tightening impossible. If you ever want to obscure your meaning, follow that example and avoid saying who did what.

All of you who played the game last week brought clarity to your revisions by saying (one way or another, with some guesswork required) who did what. Carol Winslow, and later Vijji—this week’s winners in my opinion, too—did exactly that in the fewest words.

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Again, Challenge Sentence 17

I have very vital information to give to you, but first I must have your trust before I reveal it to you because it may cause me my job, so I need somebody that I can trust for me to be able to reveal the secret to you.

Your revision: _______________________ [Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, Oct. 2.]

Go!

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Index of Challenge Sentences

50 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 17 [game]

  1. Before I reveal some vital information, I need to know I can trust you as it may cost me my job.

  2. If I can trust you to keep it secret, I will give you vital information which could cost me my job.

  3. How does the person asking know if I am the right person to ask? If I was the person being asked, I would want more detail in the opening sentence. “I’m worried about [safety] [fraud] [someone’s health] and

  4. Two suggestions:
    “If I can count on your full trust, I have vital information for you.”
    Or:
    “I have vital information for you. But I must count on your full trust, as my job might be at stake.”
    (The first scores better for tightness, but the second makes it clearer why full trust in the other person is required.)

  5. If you promise to keep it secret, I’ll share vital information with you. Leaking the secret could cost me my job.

  6. Well let’s determine what’s important in this sentence first. (1) The information is of vital importance. (2) “to give to you” implies that they are speaking to the person who needs to know (aka no other audience will do). (3) If caught sharing this secret, the speaker might lose their job. (4) The speaker needs to trust their audience.

    That’s a lot to get in, but to try:

    “I have important information for you, but I need your full trust because my job is at stake.”

  7. (Assuming the original writer _meant_ “I need to have your trust:”) I need to trust you and I need you to trust me because I have a vital secret to tell you.

    (More likely, the original writer didn’t mean to say they needed the listener’s trust, so:) I need to know I can trust you because I have a vital secret to tell you.

  8. “I have important confidential information to share with you.”

    Reason: I chose to bury in the text the fact that I already trust the recipient. If I have to ask for their trust, I probably have not developed the relationship enough to reveal information that could cause me to lose my job.

  9. Pingback: Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 18 [writing/editing game] - Writing.RocksWriting.Rocks

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