Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 37 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnston

Welcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Here’s Challenge Sentence 37, which comes to us courtesy of Cheryl Landes. Cheryl forwarded this sentence from an email she describes this way: “It’s the typical scenario. Someone died, and the person writing (the widow) is looking for someone to help her transfer a zillion dollars from some third-world country into a U.S. bank account.”

You know there must be a kind of reservation on my fund relocation plans to you on an open medium of this nature to avoid unscrupulous persons camouflaging in names to take advantages on innocent fellows willing to help out.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, March 4.]

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 the previous Challenge Sentence, here it is again:

The overriding point is that our existing staff should be assimilated into the acquiring company.

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), Ray (my husband), and me.

Larry’s Pick (Larry Kunz speaking)

The word should is fine in a sermon (you should love your neighbor). But in business and technical writing, should always warrants a rewrite. Is the speaker expressing an imperative or merely describing what they expect to happen?

For that reason I can’t consider any rewrite this week that retains should from the original sentence.

Now, about that sentence, the overriding point is that we have no idea whom the speaker is addressing. As Marcia said in the comments, that’s what makes this game impossible. And it’s what produced such a wonderful variety of responses.

The takeover target is addressing someone. (Thank goodness they included the word our or we wouldn’t even know that.) Is our sentence addressed to the Borg?

Are they expressing a mere velleity?

Or are they trying to reassure their employees? I like that one best.

We have good entries from Ali, Annb, and Rose. But my favorite is Diana’s: not only does she win the brevity prize, she retains the urgency of the original and properly turns should into an imperative.

Priority #1: integrate staff.

She should be proud of herself.

concise writing example

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

Ray’s Pick (Ray Johnston speaking)

The overriding point is that our existing staff should be assimilated into the acquiring company.

Which comes first: Plucking the low-hanging garbage? Taking a stab at the context? Recasting for active voice?

The acquiring company should assimilate our staff.

Unfortunately, this tidy subject-verb-object sentence harbors one of the most poisonous words in our lexicon—should—and, as it almost always does, should kills its host.

If we’re in the board room, talking to the C-Suite of the acquiring company, it might mean, “You should assimilate the staff (because you have a moral obligation to do so. Or because, tactically or strategically, you’d be stupid not to.)”

If we’re in the lunch room, at a hastily called all-hands meeting, we might be doing what we can to bolster morale: “They should assimilate the staff (because that’s what they often/usually/always do after an acquisition; right? Or because, tactically and strategically, they’d be stupid not to.)”

Without context, our best effort can do no more than turn a long, passive, overblown, terrible sentence into a short, active, straightforward, terrible sentence.

  • Mother-in-law Stella, once again, kicks butt.
  • Jacqueline takes it to a good place.
  • Jane, you crazy Trekker. My first thought, upon reading this sentence, was “You will be assimilated.”

Stella, Jacqueline, and Jane knock it out of the park.

Marcia’s Pick (Marcia Johnston speaking)

Bill makes a point that comes up almost every week: We can’t “assume that only the employees will read the sentence.” For whom was the writer putting this sentence together? What was he or she trying to accomplish? Lacking answers to those questions, we’re left with getting rid of what words we can without sacrificing meaning.

Here’s what can go:

  • “The overriding point is” [These words add no value.]
  • “existing” staff [What would the staff be if not existing?]
  • “be” assimilated [Passive voice doesn’t serve any purpose here.]

Getting rid of this handful of words, we end up with something like this: The acquiring company should assimilate our staff. Stella Robertson’s version—The new company should keep our staff—comes closest. (Hi, Mom. Can you see me tugging my earlobe?) Ideally, we’d go further to craft a statement with more force, more spine, more clarity of purpose, but we don’t know enough to do any of that. The writer could be making a cool-headed recommendation. On the other hand, maybe the writer is crying for help, as Anne G. suggests: Save us! 

Here are word counts for both those possibilities:

tight-writing

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Thanks, as always, to all of you for playing.

And special thanks to Larry for slipping in a word that neither Ray nor I had ever run into: velleity, which means … you do wish to know, don’t you? I could tell you, but I don’t want to rob you of the satisfaction of working to fulfill that wish for yourself.

Again, Challenge Sentence 37

You know there must be a kind of reservation on my fund relocation plans to you on an open medium of this nature to avoid unscrupulous persons camouflaging in names to take advantages on innocent fellows willing to help out.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, March 4.]

Go!

Index of Challenge Sentences

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12 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 37 [writing/editing game]

  1. Ensure fund relocation to prevent unscrupulous persons taking disadvantages by camouflaging names of innocent fellows.

  2. Reply privately.

    This sounds like one of those scams on winning the lottery in some country in Africa. They do create convoluted sentences! :>)

  3. If the writer wants to target only those who are dumb enough to fall for a transparent scam, then leave it as is:-). If not, then you can’t do any better than Ali and Annb.

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