Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 51 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Here’s Challenge Sentence 51, courtesy of A Progressive’s Style Guide (which, for the record, strikes me as a thoughtful, useful resource).

An opportunity to scan for active voice should be taken as an opportunity to root out implicit bias toward status quo systems of power by naming the actors of oppression, whether human, institutional, or cultural. 

For context, see the style guide itself (page 3), or see this article by the style guide’s originator.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, June 10.]


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:

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.

Marcia in Austria

Marcia with the Familie Demmel in 1976.

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)

Details, details! As writers we have to decide which details bring meaning to the reader and which ones are expendable.

Austria? Keep it. It’s way more interesting than, say, overseas.

1975 and 1976? Probably not. (I like how Stephanie chose “40 years on” to give us the perspective of time’s passage without burdening us with the exact years.)

Ages 16 and 17? Stephanie and others tightened that to 16, which to me is justified.

So I’m looking for entries that captured the author’s intent without interposing so many of the details.

Rhonda Bracey flips the subject – to my year – and gives us a potent twelve-word sentence:

My year in Austria at age 16 continues to influence me today.

Marc Evans takes a bit of a gamble, changing ages 16 and 17 to 11th grade:

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

We don’t know if it really was 11th grade, but it probably was. Great effort. I like haven’t been the same since in place of profoundly influenced. (And I like the Janis Ian earworm from the rest of Marc’s comment.)

I come back to Stephanie’s contribution. Twelve words, again. And just the right amount of detail. Well done!

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


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)

Sorta fun when Marcia gives us a word count to beat. Today’s winner has to come in under fourteen words!

Salient points:

  • school year
  • Austria
  • 75–76
  • age 16
  • influences continue


  • profoundly
  • continue…today

Here’s my eleven-word revision.

1975, Austria, at 16: my junior year abroad shapes me still. 

Ten words, anyone?


Have we reached critical mass at week 50? Look at all the new players … Welcome!

Tim Slager—between his revision and his commentary—nails it! Here’s his revision:

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


While Tim opted to keep the first three words, he noted that they could be deleted. Exactly!

Profound influences from [A] school year in Austria (1975-76) ha[s] shaped me since I was 16.

Well done, everyone.

Marcia’s Pick (Marcia Johnston speaking)

Every revision submitted last week has merit. As I read them, I found myself nodding my head over and over. Thanks to all of you who put thought into this exercise (including those of you who play on your own even if no one sees your revisions).

Here’s my own fourteen-word revision of last week’s Challenge Sentence as posted on Facebook on May 21, World Day for Cultural Diversity.

My school year in Austria at 16 and 17 (1975–76) profoundly influenced me.

Lee Quinn’s revision gets my nod this week, even though he uses more words than I did:

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

concise-writing-LeeThis revision stands out for a couple of reasons:

  • It retains the key details.
  • Passive voice (am influenced) has its subtle merits here. Putting am still influenced ahead of the thing that did the influencing (the school year) slightly emphasizes the act over the grammatical agent. Here, given the context—a tribute to the long-term influence of time spent living in another country—the slight emphasis on the influencing itself (rather than on the country or the duration of the stay) seems fitting.
  • Present tense (“am” vs. “was”) immediately conveys the ongoing nature of the influence—eliminating the need to say “in ways that continue to shape me today.”

Thanks again, Lee, and all other first-time players, for joining us in the game.

Sign Up!

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, including the newest game, you’ll receive an email.

Again, Challenge Sentence 51

An opportunity to scan for active voice should be taken as an opportunity to root out implicit bias toward status quo systems of power by naming the actors of oppression, whether human, institutional, or cultural.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, June 10.]


Index of Challenge Sentences

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15 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 51 [writing/editing game]

  1. Phew! I reworded it….

    Oppression and bias (human, institutional, or cultural) is often hidden by passive voice. Using active voice clearly assigns responsibility for an action.

  2. Passive voice can hide a bias toward existing power structures. Use the active voice to show the sources of oppression.

  3. Scanning for active voice often shines a light on instances of bias and sources of oppression.

  4. When scanning for active voice, consider stating the sources of oppression, to avoid implicitly favouring existing power sources.

  5. Root out implicit bias toward status quo systems of power by scanning for active voice and naming actors of oppression.

  6. Root out implicit bias toward prevailing systems of power by scanning for active voice and naming the human, institutional, or cultural oppressors

  7. To overcome the status quo, name all oppressors.


    Instead of “My habitation was damaged by lupine exhalations,” tell them, “The big, bad wolf huffed and puffed and blew my house down.”

  8. Use active voice to name human, institutional, and cultural oppressors, removing bias toward status quo power systems.

  9. Use active voice, and replace language that implicitly reinforces oppression with language that explicitly identifies human, institutional, or cultural oppressors.

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