Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 56 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Here’s Challenge Sentence 56, courtesy of Tim Slager, who found this in a job description for a “creative technical writer.”

This individual uses their understanding of the marketplace to advise and lead internal partners through the proposal, conception, and implementation of technical program promotion campaigns via the various internal communication channels.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, July 15.]


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 Larry Kunz:

The adoption of virtualization technologies in the data center has opened the environment to a multitude of synchronization issues between the network configuration at the hypervisor layer and the physical network configuration.

(I originally posted this sentence as I received it, with datacenter as one word. Because this term is usually treated as two words, I’ve normalized all entries on data center.)

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)

Ah, the curse of knowledge! To the engineer who wrote last week’s Challenge Sentence, it was blindingly obvious that the situation it describes—a hypervisor out of sync with the physical network—is a bad thing. In fact, the sentence is part of the lead-in to a white paper that goes on to describe solutions.

Yet this negative implication wasn’t obvious to several of the intelligent, literate people in the Tighten This! community—as evidenced by their choosing words like allow and enable when rewriting the sentence. The engineer’s use of a positive-sounding phrase—opened the environment—made the waters even muddier.

Technical writers confront the curse of knowledge all the time. We fill the gaps between our readers’ knowledge and our subject-matter experts’ knowledge. We also have to guard against developing our own blind spots, our own curse of knowledge, as we become steeped in the technical subject at hand.

If you’re interested in the curse of knowledge and how it affects technical communication, I recommend this blog post by Mark Baker: “Writing Excellence through Domain Awareness.”

blind spot

The curse of knowledge creates blind spots in the writer. (Image source: Death to the Stock Photo.)

The best rewrites this week managed to trim the word count while still capturing the import: virtualization, a popular technology in data centers, can cause a synchronization problem.

Nick’s and Megan’s entries especially stood out because they zoomed right in on the topic at hand—virtualization—and then succinctly described the problem. The difference lay in the ways Nick and Megan chose to deal with the curse of knowledge. Will the readers know what virtualization means? Nick thought so; Megan thought an alternative phrase (adopting virtual technologies) would fit better. Will hypervisor alone make sense to the readers, or will they need hypervisor network?

For me, Nick’s entry wins by a whisker—helped along by the fact that his came first:

Virtualization in the data center may put the hypervisor network out of sync with the physical network.

tight writing

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)

Writing about technology presents challenges.

  • The technology itself—the concept, the functionality, or the application—often defies comprehension.
  • The vocabulary often includes new words, new terms, and old words used in new ways.
  • Your subject-matter experts—those who invented, or continue to invent, the technology—never have time for you.

So someone close to the project—a product manager or an applications engineer, maybe—dashes off some text for marketing or tech support or development tools, and that text eventually finds its way to you. Here! Tighten this!

Nora says, “Wow. Tough one!” No argument from me. What makes this one so tough? For one thing, so many useless words: configuration, technologies, adoption, opened the environment, multitude, issues, and layer!

And then look at how some of these useless words make a key passage so hard to understand: has opened the environment to a multitude of synchronization issues …  Is the stage set for issues to arise? Are the issues manifest? Most of this week’s contestants come down on the “potential issues” side; others, including me, read that the virtualization has already put the networks out of phase. The author, presumably, knows the facts; the rest of us can only guess. Here’s my shot:

Data-center virtualization desynchronizes the physical and hypervisor networks.

Joan tightens thoroughly … and then, picturing some readers who don’t know from hypervisors, inserts a definition.

Nick tightens thoroughly … and stops … and takes home the prize money.
Good entries from everyone this week. Thanks, all, for playing!

Marcia’s Pick (Marcia Johnston speaking)

As Nora said after posting her revision, “Wow, tough one!” Despite the difiiculty, many of you played anyway. Or maybe you play because of the difficulty. Either way, thanks, all of you, for making this game lively every week.

The good news with a difficult sentence is that, even if you have no clue what the sentence means, you can make it more readable. For example, in last week’s Challenge Sentence—if you resist the urge to throw up your hands—you can decipher that something is going on in data centers.

Data centers

Which data centers?

Data centers that use virtualization technologies

What’s going on?

Data centers that use virtualization technologies have problems

Problems doing what?

Data centers that use virtualization technologies have problems synching

Problems synching what? Hmm. The term network configuration comes up twice. You don’t have to know what a network configuration is to suss out that it has two parts: physical components and a hypervisor layer. I would guess that those two things are, in fact, parts of the network. I doubt that we need configuration. I don’t know enough about hypervisors to know if we need layer; but I would look into deleting that word, too. Here’s my guess:

Data centers that use virtualization technologies have problems synching the network’s hypervisor with its physical components.

How did our contestants do? Jessica E. takes the trophy. While her revision would need tweaking for accuracy, with the help of a subject-matter expert, she has taken a good shot. I like that this tightened sentence orients us by stating where the problem happens and then succinctly describes the problem, placing the key part of the message (“out of sync”) at the end*:

In virtualized data centers, the physical and hypervisor-based network configurations can get out of sync.


*Power-writing tip: Reinforce your main message in any sentence by placing the emphatic term at the end. Do you already do this? If not, start today. Do it in everything you write. You won’t believe the impact this one simple tactic will have on your writing. Download a free PDF of my chapter on this topic, including loads of examples, here: “The Last Word.”

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Again, Challenge Sentence 56

This individual uses their understanding of the marketplace to advise and lead internal partners through the proposal, conception, and implementation of technical program promotion campaigns via the various internal communication channels.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, July 15.]


Index of Challenge Sentences

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22 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 56 [writing/editing game]

  1. This role requires the use of marketplace knowledge to guide the development and implementation of technical program promotion campaigns.

  2. A successful candidate relies on her strong understanding of the marketplace to lead colleagues in creating and internally promoting technical programs.

  3. Advise and lead proposal, creation, and implementation of internal promotion campaigns for technical programs.

  4. This individual understands the marketplace and can lead internal partners through promotional campaigns using internal communication channels.

  5. Using market knowledge, writers lead internal partners through all stages of promotion campaigns for technical programs.

  6. The position requires marketplace knowledge and ability to advise, direct, and communicate with others regarding all steps of technical-program promotion.

  7. This individual understands the marketplace well enough to guide internal partners through all developmental phases.

  8. You understand market dynamics, and know how to lead full-cycle campaigns promoting technical programs.

    Note: Since this is a job description, I’m going with second person viewpoint — makes it feel more immediate and conversational. I’d do this throughout.

  9. We are seeking a marketing and communications pro who can lead promotion campaigns for our technical programs.

  10. You’ll use your industry expertise to advise colleagues as they propose, build, and launch internal, technical-program promotions.

  11. She harnesses marketplace knowledge to guide internal partners through all stages of locally promoting technical programs.

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