Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 45 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Special welcome to the folks at Jive. Last week, Leona left this comment: “We’ve incorporated your Writing Rocks into our Monday docs strategy meeting at Jive. It’s been super fun!” Hearing that made my day. I now know of two companies, the other being Common Sense Advisory. Anyone else out there playing this game with a workgroup?

Here’s Challenge Sentence 45, courtesy of my sister, Wendy Hood, who saw this sentence on a slide at a conference. She says, “I bet your readers can make it pretty.”

The foundation of leadership begins with the individual and to grow as an effective leader you must understand and appreciate yourself as well as the differences of personal characteristics in others.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, April 29.]


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 (one of the submissions from the previous week’s live game):

I guess the guy who put the roof on really didn’t know what he was doing and nailed the shingles on too low, and then we had a very rainy winter.

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)

How wonderful to see so many new players this week! A warm welcome to all of you.

Cheryl certainly wins the prize for brevity. But her entry (“The roof leaks”) leaves out two important things: the inept roofer, who caused the problem, and the rainy winter, which exacerbated it.

A couple of revisions suggest that the roofer’s shoddy shingling caused not just the leaks but also the rainy winter. Never mind El Niño – we have El Roofer.

Lots of entries tighten the original while keeping the essential facts. For me the best one, saying the most with the fewest words, is Judith’s:

Over the winter, leaks in our new roof exposed our roofer’s lack of skill.


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)

Holottawords to say too much. If the roof is new, and if the roof leaked all winter, then we can figure out that the roofer is incompetent and that it rained a lot.

If time is money, then words is money.

Our new roof leaked all winter.

Let’s see which of this week’s contestants has her or his shingles nailed on right…

Oh. Make that her and his shingles. Cheryl Hardy enters the fray (welcome!) with a zinger, and first-timer Steve Hopkinson (welcome!) keeps the roofer on the hot seat.

Cheryl: The roof leaks.

Steve: The winter rains exposed our roofer’s incompetence.



Beautifully done, Cheryl and Steve, and well done all.

Marcia’s Pick (Marcia Johnston speaking)

Last week’s Challenge Sentence gave us lots to think about. Thanks to all who played—especially those of you who play week after week and never get picked but keep on playing. Highest fives to you for your persistence.

Many of the proposed revisions bring the leaky roof out from between the lines. And yes, this Challenge Sentence probably would have no reason for existing if a leaky roof weren’t involved. Cheryl Hardy boldly takes this inference to its three-word extreme: “The roof leaks.” I could easily go in this direction myself. In the end, though, in the spirit of this impossible game, lacking the ability to confirm that the roof leaks, I would refrain from adding the implied information. I’d stick with the facts we’re given—the too-low shingles followed by the rainy winter—and simply remove the unneeded words: 

I guess The guy who put the roof on roofer really didn’t know what he was doing and nailed the shingles on too low, and then we had a very rainy winter.

Some players condense nailed the shingles on too low into something like misaligned the shingles. I appreciate that inclination. Given the “rules” of the game, though, I wouldn’t go that far since that kind of edit sacrifices information.

Kudos to the players who tighten the phrase didn’t know what he was doing. Generally, they swap in descriptive words: incompetent, inexperienced, inept, bungling, and so on. Here, I would go further and simply take the phrase out. No adjectives needed. The roofer’s behavior and the presumed consequences speak for themselves. Readers don’t need to be told what they can figure out for themselves.

In fact, 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.

For me, Leigh’s revision floats to the top:

Before the wet winter, our bungling roofer misaligned the shingles.

tight writing example1

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Again, Challenge Sentence 45

The foundation of leadership begins with the individual and to grow as an effective leader you must understand and appreciate yourself as well as the differences of personal characteristics in others.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, April 29.]


Index of Challenge Sentences

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20 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 45 [writing/editing game]

  1. An effective leader is self-confident and open to the diverse opinions of others.

  2. Understanding yourself and how others’ personal traits differ are key to growing as a leader.

  3. The problem with last week’s challenge, was not its length. It was vague. You can shorten a sentence but not explain the issue. If your installation instructions are “Don’t nail the shingles on too low,” one might nail all the shingles on the top half of the roof and claim he had followed instructions. The roofing company might then be liable for more than translation costs!

  4. Being an effective leader starts with the self-awareness to appreciate the differences in others.

  5. Effective leaders understand and appreciate unique characteristics in themselves and others.

  6. Tim, Thanks for that observation. You’re right; these Challenge Sentences often have other issues besides wordiness. I’m always looking for good sentence candidates; please send on any juicy specimens you may come across.

  7. I’ll be on the lookout. I really enjoy these exercises and would be happy to contribute.

  8. Hi Marcia,

    I am planing to use this week’s Tighten this! challenge in my technical writing session organized by TechCommNZ.

    I will let you know how it went.

    Thank you!

  9. Understanding yourself is the cornerstone of leadership and of understanding others.

  10. A leader who appreciates her individuality comes to recognize others’ distinct qualities.

  11. Effective leadership begins with you. Know your value and appreciate diversity in others.

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