Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 19 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Here’s Challenge Sentence 19, inspired by an example given in a recent talk (at Information Development World) by George D. Gopen, Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke University.

What would be the faculty reception accorded the introduction of such a proposal by the Council?

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, Oct. 16.]


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 last week’s Challenge Sentence, here it is again:

To the extent that MegaCorp operates under the auspices of these contracts, MegaCorp has an affirmative responsibility to meet its contractual, regulatory, and statutory requirements when acquiring goods and services to be used in the performance of its government contracts. 

This gem comes to us courtesy of Jeff Greer, a member of the board of directors of the Center for Plain Language. Thanks, again, Jeff, for sharing this sentence as part of your recent talk at Information Development World.

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) When I see bafflegab like last week’s Challenge Sentence, I see a sheet of bubble wrap. So many bubbles of wordiness waiting to be popped.


Tightening sentences—more fun than popping bubble wrap

“To the extent that” becomes “when” or “as.” Pop!

“Has an affirmative responsibility to” becomes “must.” Pop!

Popping bubble wrap is fun, and I think everyone had fun popping this sentence down to its essence. There are a lot of strong entries from which to pick.

So which entry is the best of the best? Greta Boller’s:

When acquiring goods and services to execute government contracts, MegaCorp must obey applicable contracts, statutes, and regulations.

Bafflegab busting

Greta’s entry features strong verbs (acquiring, execute, must obey) and is faithful enough to the original that MegaCorp’s legal department would probably sign off on it.

Honorable mentions go to Mike Myers, whose entry echoed Greta’s, and to Shanker, who used shall instead of must (which I think the lawyers would like—and which I liked too) but whose entry lacked the precision that acquiring or procuring would’ve added. Always remember to resist the urge to overtighten.

(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) Simply put, 19 words: MegaCorp must meet contractual, regulatory, and statutory requirements when buying goods and services for use in executing government contracts.

  • Executing is unambiguous; fulfilling is ambiguous; performing is wrong. Omitting the verb—for use in government contracts—is the wrongest. 🙁
  • As for the requirements, three shall be the number thou shalt count: contractual, regulatory, and statutory.
  • MegaCorp must meet the requirements. It sometimes follows that MegaCorp’s vendors must also meet some requirements, but we have no indication that it follows in this case.
  • The requirements pertain not to the goods and services but to buying the goods and services.
  • MegaCorp uses the goods and services to execute the contracts. (The goods and services are not part of the contract.)

Several entries come close. This week’s winners:


MegaCorp shall meet its contractual, regulatory, and statutory requirements for [acquiring/buying] goods and services used in [executing] government contracts.



MegaCorp must meet its contractual, regulatory, and statutory requirements [pertaining] to [acquiring] goods and services for [executing] its government contracts.



[In] acquiring goods and services used in [executing] its government contracts, MegaCorp must meet its contractual, regulatory, and statutory requirements.


Marcia’s Pick

(Marcia Johnston speaking) Here’s how the “MegaCorp” writers tightened this sentence, as Jeff Greer revealed in his talk.

MegaCorp must meet all requirements in government contracts.


Those writers had an advantage over the rest of us: they knew their context and could, therefore, slash more than players of this game could presume to do. Check out their word-count reduction: 80%. The player who came closest was Steve Seager, who reduced word count by 73% with this revision:

In government contracts, MegaCorp’s procurement practices are bound by governmental requirements.

Writing concisely

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Tightening sentences. More fun than popping bubble wrap. Who knew? Probably you if you’ve read this far.

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Again, Challenge Sentence 19

What would be the faculty reception accorded the introduction of such a proposal by the Council?

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday,  Oct. 16.]


Index of Challenge Sentences

23 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 19 [writing/editing game]

  1. “What would be the faculty reception if the Council introduced the proposal at this time?”

    I cheated. I know the author; and she told me what she wanted to convey. Merely tightening the original is not enough: You have to maintain the author’s intentions along the way. Of course, to do that requires knowing what those intentions are; and if the sentence is badly enough written (like this week’s example), you well may not be able to know what it was she was trying to say.

  2. George,

    Thanks for leaving this comment. You’ve pinched the game on its Achilles heel. You couldn’t be more right. This game is impossible because real-world editing decisions always depend on context, and we have no context in our Challenge Sentences. It’s a crazy game to have invented. Players know nothing about the Challenge Sentence’s audience or about the author’s intentions. I shoot down the game myself for all kinds of reasons, as you may have seen here: http://writing.rocks/how-to-play-tighten-this/

    Yet, I invite people to play–emphasis on play. I invite people to imagine and consider and weigh and exercise their brains about how they would make editing decisions in this context or that. Larry and Ray and I often come up with different choices, not declaring them right or wrong but talking about the things that went through our heads.

    To me, that’s the value of the game. It’s not about the revisions we pick. It’s about the thought processes we reveal. It’s about giving the editing process its due as a worthy pursuit. The Challenge Sentences are just an excuse to do all that.

    Some people tell us that returning to this game from week to week is helping them make better decisions in their real writing back in their homes and offices where they do know the context. And people are having fun with words here. If a game can bring a bit of fun into people’s lives and help them grow as writers, it seems worth continuing to play despite its impossibility.

    Thanks again for your note and for the rousing talk you gave at Information Development World, including the sentence example you shared (for different purposes) that inspired this week’s game.

  3. ‘What would be the faculty’s reception to such a proposal?’

    I felt that ‘Council’s introduction’ is understood by the audience!

  4. I smell editorial shenanigans and respond in kind 🙂

    It would have been very easy for the author to say, ‘How would the faculty react to the Council’s proposal?’ The fact that they didn’t implies something else is at play.

    I’m going to assume that the author was struggling to articulate a complicated or sensitive situation and lost clarity somewhere along the line.

    The phrasing suggests to me that the author is not a member of faculty, but is (most likely) Head of the Council or an independent advisor, so I will make those assumptions too.

    Two thoughts from here:

    – ‘Such a proposal’ suggests the author already knows this is a bold, possibly even scary, proposal in the eyes of the faculty, and the Council have discussed it/are discussing it.

    – ‘Accorded the introduction of’ suggests that presenting the proposal is not yet agreed upon by the Council.

    In this (assumed) scenario, the goal of the author would be to gain a decision on whether to present or not. The audience would be the Council itself.

    I would then tighten the sentence by saying:

    Given it’s likely impact, how will the faculty react to Council making this proposal?

  5. Steve, You are asking all the necessary questions. This game can be crazy-making, because we’re guessing at the critical questions: Who is the audience? What is the purpose? You’ve made your best guess by thinking things through—the true aim of this game.

    I could see your original suggestion (“How would the faculty react to the Council’s proposal?”) still working in the scenario you’ve sketched out, but I appreciate all the subtleties you’re considering.

  6. According to the introducing proposal by the council how does the faculty reception give power?

    “What would be the faculty reception accorded the introduction of such a proposal by the Council?”

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