Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 50 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This!

This week marks our semicentsentencial—half of a hundred sentences—celebration. When I started this game a year ago, I had no idea how many people would play. I had no idea that a band of regulars (you know who you are) would weigh in from week to week, and that some workgroups would use the Challenge Sentences in their meetings, and that Larry Kunz would sign on as a third judge, and that Ray and I would be invited to host a live version of the game, and that the game would still be going strong a year later, prompting me to write this paragraph.

To all of you who join in, whether we know it or not, thanks for keeping it fun!

Thank You

Here’s Challenge Sentence 50, our semicentsentencial Challenge Sentence. It comes from draft of a Facebook post that I wrote on May 21, World Day for Cultural Diversity. Before I clicked the Publish button, I had tightened this sentence to 14 words. Just saying.

I spent the school year in Austria in 1975–76 at ages 16 and 17; I was profoundly influenced in ways that continue to shape me today.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, June 3.]


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, courtesy of Rhonda Bracey:

To monitor the potential impacts, [Company] carried out monitoring of benthic communities, including baseline surveys prior to installation, annual monitoring surveys during the installation activities, and two post-development surveys upon completion of installation.

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)

After I found out what benthic means (yes, I had to look it up, too), I conjured the image of “surveying benthic communities”—a guy with a clipboard knocking on doors all over Prawnville: Good afternoon, ma’am. May I have a few minutes of your time? We’d like to know what invertebrates think about the issues of the day.

This is how we technical writers find comic relief in our jobs.

We had many good entries this week. Nearly everyone homed in on the gist: [Company] wants to show that it monitored potential impacts of whatever it installed.

Some players, in the interest of trimming words, chose not to enumerate the various monitoring techniques, opting instead simply for before, during, and after. Since the sentence is probably intended for scientists or government regulators, I think something was lost.

Whose entries were the best of the best? Tonie is our first runner-up with this: [Company] monitored potential impacts to benthic communities with surveys: baseline, annually while installing, and two after installing.

My winner this week is Nick Shears. Not only was he first to use a colon to introduce the list, but he also managed to avoid the word survey, giving us no comic relief but a clear focus on what the Challenge Sentence was saying.

[Company] monitored potential impacts on benthic communities: once before installation, annually during it, and twice afterwards.


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)

Any sentence that drives us to the dictionary can’t be all bad.


  • I’m getting rid of potential. It’s okay for the baseline survey, but once the installation starts, we’re no longer talking about maybe—we’re looking right at the damage.
  • Prior to and upon completion of … gone.
  • Three-peat of survey. Nope.
  • Survey subsumes monitor, so we’re giving up on that lost clause.  🙂

XYZ surveyed the benthic community before, during, and after the installation.


Let’s see what’s in the mailbag. Wow. Wow and Wow. Welcome, Newcomers, and Welcome Back, Vets.

Entries are all over the map, and every one gets the Karl Malone Award. (It delivers the mail.) Nice work!

Each of you asks the question—What’s essential?—and each of you takes a view and comes up with a unique answer.

Two winners this week:

Susan, who was looking over my shoulder: [Company] surveyed benthic communities before, during, and after installation.


And Leontine, who gets points for bullets. This entry retains 100% of the useful detail and makes the info as accessible as possible.

[Company] monitors benthic communities:
–    before installation (baseline surveys)
–    during installation (annual monitoring surveys)
–    after installation (two post-development surveys)


Marcia’s Pick (Marcia Johnston speaking)

When Rhonda Bracey first sent me last week’s Challenge Sentence, I thought, Not bad. Not much to tighten there. Boy, did you all prove me wrong.

For starters, Rhonda’s own revision opened my eyes.

To monitor the potential impacts, [Company] carried out benthic community surveys before (baseline surveys), during (annual surveys), and after (two post-development surveys) installation.

She took some serious slogging out of the reading effort by eliminating brain-clogging duplications and giving us several clues.

  • She eliminated the redundant use of monitor in “To monitor … [Company] carried out monitoring.” (Aha! The surveys were the means of monitoring.)
  • She pulled the word surveys to the front of the list. (Aha! we’re about to encounter a set of surveys.)
  • She highlighted the before-during-after sequence. (Aha! The surveys moved through time.)
  • She tagged each survey type with parentheses, a kind of visual metadata, calling attention to the parallel structure of the list. (Aha! Baseline surveys, annual surveys, post-development surveys—boom, boom, boom.)

Rhonda accomplished these things even as she reduced word count substantially.

How about our contestants? What a crop of thoughtful entries. Honorable mentions go to Leontine Nagy, Nick Shears, Pamela Myers-Lewis, Julian Cable, Tonie, and Kim Hume.

Tim Slager’s entry wins the day. He turned survey into a verb and eliminated all duplicate words, reducing word count by 55% without sacrificing any meaning that I can imagine anyone caring about (although if the benthic communities experienced no impact, we would still need to say “potential” impact). Here’s Tim’s revision:

To monitor impact, [Company] surveyed benthic communities once before, annually during, and twice after installation.


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Again, Challenge Sentence 50

I spent the school year in Austria in 1975–76 at ages 16 and 17; I was profoundly influenced in ways that continue to shape me today.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, June 3.]


Index of Challenge Sentences

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30 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 50 [writing/editing game]

  1. At 16, I spent a school year in Austria that has influenced me to this day.

  2. The school year I spent in Austria when I was 16 had a formative effect on me that continues today.

  3. My time in Austria at ages 16 and 17 profoundly influenced me and shapes me today.

    Happy semicentsentencial

  4. I have been profoundly influenced by my year in an Austrian school during the seventies when I was sixteen.

  5. My school year spent in Austria aged 16 – 17 profoundly influenced me ever since.

    [Also tightened to 14 words – same as you, Marcia!]

  6. My 1975–76 school year in Austria at 16–17 influenced me profoundly, and still does.

    Happy Sharpen This L!
    But my L isn’t blunt!

  7. At 16, I was profoundly shaped by spending the 1975-1976 school year in Austria.

  8. I am still influenced by the year I spent in school in Austria 1975-76, at age 16.

  9. My year as a teenage student in Austria continues to shape my personal development.

  10. The ’75-’76 school year I spent in Austria, ages16 and 17, continues to shape me.

  11. Thanks, Marcia! Now that I’ve started I can feel it becoming addictive… In fact I am compelled to revise my entry!

    My year in Austria at 16 still influences me 40 years on.

  12. Profound influences from a school year in Austria (1975-76) have shaped me since I was 16.

    (One could delete the first 3 words, I suppose, but that seems to remove its original intensity.)

    Happy semicentsen… Happy 50th! A ha’penny for your celebration.

  13. I attended 11th grade in Austria and haven’t been the same since.

    Maybe that’s what Janis Ian was driving at in her 1975 hit:

    I learned the truth [in Austria?] at seventeen
    That love was meant for beauty queens
    And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
    Who married young and then retired

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