Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 3 [game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, “Tighten This!” Here’s Challenge Sentence 3:

It is advisable for you to read the notes and information detailed in the attached form and complete the form prior to its return to us in person by December 1 at the address you will find at the bottom of the form under the heading “Return to.”

Your revision: _______________________ [Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment. To be considered for galaxy-wide glory, respond by Friday, June 19.]


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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:

It is highly unusual to discover a person who has never told a fib. 

Once again, the judges (my husband and I) have chosen different winners. Dang, this game is hard. Impossible. More on that later.

Ray’s Pick

(Ray speaking) I look for succinctness. I discount, but do not reject outright, any entry containing a be-verb. I keep in mind three elements of the original:

  • highly unusual, which, if taken literally, implies that a fully truthful person exists (or has existed), and which, if taken as ironic understatement, implies that no fully truthful person does exist, has ever existed, or likely will exist
  • to discover, which evokes Demosthenes searching (still) for an honest man
  • fib, which does not mean lie

Shanker gets the nod with this nine-word rendering (reducing word count by 36%):

Rarely do you find a person who never fibbed.

Shanker's Revision

Props to Kok Hong, with the cleverest entry:

If you say you’ve never told a lie, you’re fibbing.

And kudos to everyone. In just one week, entry quality (it seems to me) went way up.

Marcia’s Pick

(Marcia speaking) What thoughtful, playful revisions you all suggested.

  • Several three-word revisions—like “Most people fib” and “Almost everyone fibs”—almost had me, but I shook myself free of their spell because they lose the never, sacrificing some of the original flavor and emphasis.
  • The two-word revisions—like “People fib” and “Everybody lies”—lose the allowance for the unusual case. Dr. House wouldn’t go for the original’s leniency.
  • The be-verb revisions—like “Non-fibbers are rare” and “Honesty is rare”—retain the meaning and appropriately emphasize rare by ending with it, but in this case I prefer a strong verb.
  • Revisions that swap in lie for fib, as Billy pointed out, make an unnecessary change.
  • Revisions that keep the sense of a discoverer have my respect. If I could talk with the author, I would ask if we could ditch the discoverer. Since I can’t have that conversation, and since the discoverer seems unlikely to matter, I opted for punch.

So my nod goes to Lea with this three-word rendering (reducing word count by 79%):

Few never fib.

Lea Revision

(How did I arrive at this translation formula? See “Write Tight(er): Get to the Point and Save Millions.”)

Why Play This Game?

Reducing word count doesn’t guarantee better writing. Cutting unneeded words does. This game builds your skill at cutting unneeded words. That skill might even save your organization beaucoup bucks.

But those aren’t the reasons we play this game. We play it because few things in life compare to the fun and satisfaction of playing with words.

If you’re nodding your head, you probably have friends who feel the same way. Why not invite them to play, too?

This Game Is Impossible—Play Anyway

Thanks to all who have commented on the importance of nuance in editing. Yes! Let me say flat out, this game is impossible. Any change you make to a sentence affects meaning, emphasis, tone, voice, and cadence. To make good decisions, you have to know things that this game can’t tell you: the audience’s needs, the purpose of the whole piece (and of the sentence itself), the applicable style guidelines, the message architecture, the translation requirements, and many other things. You have to know what comes before and after that sentence.

As Tonie put it, “If only I had some context.”

You won’t find any context here beyond what the Challenge Sentence itself gives away. Ix-nay on the ontext-cay. That’s the nature of this game. Therefore, the game is impossible. Therefore, you could call every week’s choice of winners wrong, and you’d be right. Here’s the thing. This game (like writing and editing in general) is not about right and wrong. I invite you to enter the game in the spirit of play.

Here are some things this game is not about:

  • I pick “winners” here. But this game is not about winning.
  • I count words here. But this game is not about counting words.
  • I ask you do to the impossible here. But this game is not about doing the impossible.

What is this game about, then?

  • It’s about what happens in your brain after you play the game.
  • It’s about you applying the questions that arise here to your own context-rich sentences.
  • It’s about you seeing new possibilities for tightening your own sentences—and, any time you like, declaring yourself the winner.

Ready to play?

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, you’ll receive an email.

Index of Challenge Sentences

38 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 3 [game]

  1. Before completing the attached form, read its information and personally return it to us at the address listed on the bottom of the form no later than December 1.

  2. Thoroughly read and complete this form. Deliver it to the address provided by December 1.

  3. Please follow the instructions on the attached form and submit it, in person, by December 1.

  4. Read and complete the attached form. Hand-deliver it to the address provided by December 1.

  5. We advise you thoroughly read the attached and return completed form, in person, by December 1.

  6. Read and complete the attached form. Return in person by December 1 to the address listed on the form.

  7. Read the notes and information in the form, fill it, and personally return December 1 latest, to the address under “Return to”.

  8. Complete the attached form by December 1 per the instruction under the “Return to” heading .

  9. Read and complete the attached form. Return it by December 1 to the address under “Return to.”

  10. It seems I was unable to edit my existing entry. I would like to change it as follows:

    Read and complete the attached form. Return it in person by December 1 to the address under “Return to.”

  11. Read and complete attached information and form, then return it to the following address, in person, by December 1.

  12. After reading and completing the attached form, return it by December 1 to the address indicated.

  13. Read the detailed information in the attached form and complete the form by December 1. Deliver the form to us in person at the “Return to” address.

  14. Please carefully read and complete the attached form and present it by Dec 1 at the “Return To” address.

  15. Complete the form and bring it to the “Return to” location by December 1.

    [Nobody’s going to read the “notes and information” unless they get stuck. So why waste my breath “advising” them to read it?]

  16. Read, complete, and return the attached form by December 1 to the noted address.

  17. Return the filled out form in person to the address mentioned below by December 1.

  18. Read, complete and return the form in person by December 1.

    If the form itself already states “return in person” and the due date in the notes and information, it could be “read and complete this form as directed”, but lacking that context I didn’t want to drop the date out of the statement.

  19. After reading and completing the attached form, please hand deliver it by December 1 to the address listed on the bottom of the form under the “Return to.” heading.

  20. Complete the attached form and bring it to the “Return to” address listed within by December 1st.

  21. Complete the attached form and send it by December 1 to the address given at the end.

  22. Read the attached notes and information, then return the form to the address listed under “Return to” by December 1.

  23. Deliver the attached form in person to [address] by December 1. (Take the “Return to” off of the bottom of the form!

  24. Note: We do not assume as technical communicators. However my revised version for the instructions as “Read all the instructions to complete the form…” means that the user reads the note at the bottom of form as well, for ‘return to’ address. So I do not feel the need to say it explicitly! 🙂

  25. Please read the notes and information before completing the document. Once completed, return the form to us in person by December 1st, at the address listed below.

  26. Advisable it is to read the entire attached form with completion prior to returning to us on December 1st.

  27. Pingback: Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 4 [game] - Writing.RocksWriting.Rocks

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