Welcome to the concise-writing game, “Tighten This!” Here’s Challenge Sentence 3:
It is advisable for you to read the notes and information detailed in the attached form and complete the form prior to its return to us in person by December 1 at the address you will find at the bottom of the form under the heading “Return to.”
Your revision: _______________________ [Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment. To be considered for galaxy-wide glory, respond by Friday, June 19.]
Psst: If you’re on Twitter, please click this tweet to share the joy of writing (and the joy of Word Up!) with fellow word lovers. If you’ve already tweeted this, thank you. Keep the tweets coming.Writers—yes, you—got your copy of @MarciaRJohnston's 'Word Up!' yet? #writing #editing Click To Tweet
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:
It is highly unusual to discover a person who has never told a fib.
Once again, the judges (my husband and I) have chosen different winners. Dang, this game is hard. Impossible. More on that later.
(Ray speaking) I look for succinctness. I discount, but do not reject outright, any entry containing a be-verb. I keep in mind three elements of the original:
- highly unusual, which, if taken literally, implies that a fully truthful person exists (or has existed), and which, if taken as ironic understatement, implies that no fully truthful person does exist, has ever existed, or likely will exist
- to discover, which evokes Demosthenes searching (still) for an honest man
- fib, which does not mean lie
Shanker gets the nod with this nine-word rendering (reducing word count by 36%):
Rarely do you find a person who never fibbed.
Props to Kok Hong, with the cleverest entry:
If you say you’ve never told a lie, you’re fibbing.
And kudos to everyone. In just one week, entry quality (it seems to me) went way up.
(Marcia speaking) What thoughtful, playful revisions you all suggested.
- Several three-word revisions—like “Most people fib” and “Almost everyone fibs”—almost had me, but I shook myself free of their spell because they lose the never, sacrificing some of the original flavor and emphasis.
- The two-word revisions—like “People fib” and “Everybody lies”—lose the allowance for the unusual case. Dr. House wouldn’t go for the original’s leniency.
- The be-verb revisions—like “Non-fibbers are rare” and “Honesty is rare”—retain the meaning and appropriately emphasize rare by ending with it, but in this case I prefer a strong verb.
- Revisions that swap in lie for fib, as Billy pointed out, make an unnecessary change.
- Revisions that keep the sense of a discoverer have my respect. If I could talk with the author, I would ask if we could ditch the discoverer. Since I can’t have that conversation, and since the discoverer seems unlikely to matter, I opted for punch.
So my nod goes to Lea with this three-word rendering (reducing word count by 79%):
Few never fib.
(How did I arrive at this translation formula? See “Write Tight(er): Get to the Point and Save Millions.”)
Why Play This Game?
Reducing word count doesn’t guarantee better writing. Cutting unneeded words does. This game builds your skill at cutting unneeded words. That skill might even save your organization beaucoup bucks.
But those aren’t the reasons we play this game. We play it because few things in life compare to the fun and satisfaction of playing with words.
If you’re nodding your head, you probably have friends who feel the same way. Why not invite them to play, too?
This Game Is Impossible—Play Anyway
Thanks to all who have commented on the importance of nuance in editing. Yes! Let me say flat out, this game is impossible. Any change you make to a sentence affects meaning, emphasis, tone, voice, and cadence. To make good decisions, you have to know things that this game can’t tell you: the audience’s needs, the purpose of the whole piece (and of the sentence itself), the applicable style guidelines, the message architecture, the translation requirements, and many other things. You have to know what comes before and after that sentence.
As Tonie put it, “If only I had some context.”
You won’t find any context here beyond what the Challenge Sentence itself gives away. Ix-nay on the ontext-cay. That’s the nature of this game. Therefore, the game is impossible. Therefore, you could call every week’s choice of winners wrong, and you’d be right. Here’s the thing. This game (like writing and editing in general) is not about right and wrong. I invite you to enter the game in the spirit of play.
Here are some things this game is not about:
- I pick “winners” here. But this game is not about winning.
- I count words here. But this game is not about counting words.
- I ask you do to the impossible here. But this game is not about doing the impossible.
What is this game about, then?
- It’s about what happens in your brain after you play the game.
- It’s about you applying the questions that arise here to your own context-rich sentences.
- It’s about you seeing new possibilities for tightening your own sentences—and, any time you like, declaring yourself the winner.
Ready to play?
Want to play “Tighten This!” every week? Want a shot of fun while building your concise-writing skills with word-loving friends? Want to edify your inner editor? Subscribe to my blog under the heading “Sign Up!” (above right or, on a mobile device, all the way at the bottom). Then, each time I publish a post, you’ll receive an email.Google+