Here are the guidelines for my weekly concise-writing game, Tighten This!
How to Play
- My turn. Every week, I post a sentence. I may use one that I’ve come across (changing key words to avoid identifying the source), or I may make one up.
- Your turn. Type your revision into a comment in that week’s post.
- My turn. The following week, I post the winning revision—the one that uses the fewest words while retaining the full meaning as much as possible.
Want my favorite concise-writing technique? See “Write Tight(er): Get to the Point and Save Millions.”
- To play is to win. You’re building a skill. Right and wrong do not apply.
- Use multiple sentences if you like.
- In real life, you would edit based on many factors; audience, context, mood, etc. Here, focus on reducing words (without losing meaning). Pretend you’re talking to a colleague familiar with the topic. Give it a shot in the spirit of fun.
- In the absence of comments, I will propose my own revision.
- I may edit winning answers for grammar.
- I’ll consult with my editorial board (long-time technical writer Larry Kunz and my husband, Ray) to select winners. We may pick different winners.
- In the event of duplicate revisions, I’ll pick the first one submitted.
- Got a challenge sentence of your own? Pop it into a comment. You just might see it in a future Tighten This! post with a hat tip to you.
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?
Who Can Play?
Anyone can play, and anyone can “win.”
In the spirit of this game—which is about fun and skill building, not about winning—I declare all submissions, whoever submitted them, worthy of consideration. If I were to ask my friends and family members to recuse themselves, this game would become lonely indeed. So I welcome all players, and I pledge, to the best of my ability, to choose revisions whose analysis gives readers the most value.
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 one player (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.
Larry Kunz gives his own take on Tighten This! in his blog post “Good Writing Adds Value: Here’s Proof.”
Here are some things this game is not about:
- We pick “winners” here, but this game is not about winning.
- We count words here, but this game is not about counting words.
- We 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.
You could sum up this game’s purpose as giving writers a safe place to practice finding that sweet spot between overdescribing and underdescribing. With our context-free Challenge Sentences, we can never know whether we’ve found that sweet spot—neither the players nor the judges can know—but we can have fun thinking about how writers find that sweet spot. A lot goes into that thought process.
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.