Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 31 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Here’s Challenge Sentence 31:

Perform a thorough feature assessment and extensive testing of the operating system.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, Jan. 22.]


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 (from a slide in a webinar encouraging people to write shorter sentences):

Factors that are involved in prolonging the life of this device include, but are not limited to, the following: advancing the device through the endoscope accessory channel in short increments, withdrawing the device from the channel gently, avoiding loops and kinks in the catheter, rolling the device into a coil that has a minimum 8-inch (20-cm) diameter, and thoroughly cleaning the device following the instructions that are included in this booklet. 

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)

This is why I love technical writing. There are so many ways to cast this sentence—so many good ways, as this week’s entrants have demonstrated. Should we use a list or not? Thanks to Marc Evans for intelligently laying out the pros and cons. Marc’s listless entry was one of the week’s best. So was Donna’s classic bulleted list.

Then there’s the question of tone. The original sentence is officious, cold, clinical. Most of the entries, properly, made the tone a bit warmer while keeping it businesslike. A few, like Michael Blumfeld’s, went for a decidedly less formal tone. Was that appropriate? That depends on the image the company wants to portray. It’s something writers should always keep in mind. (I liked Michael’s entry a lot.)

In a very close contest, I give this week’s laurel wreath to Jim Durning. He deftly tightened each item in the list and constructed a single well-paced sentence with an easy, logical flow. Jim, who needs to win Powerball when you can claim the top prize in Tighten This?

Jim’s entry:

Keep your endoscope in top condition by always advancing it through the accessory channel slowly, withdrawing it gently, avoiding catheter loops and kinks, coiling it with a minimum 8-inch (20-cm) diameter, and cleaning it according to this booklet’s instructions.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 1.56.42 AM

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)

Where possible, we’d present use and care instructions in procedure format—as numbered steps. Here, where we don’t have enough to go on, we can at least break things into categories and present each group as bullet points.

Prolonging the Life of the Device

During Use

  • Advance the device through the endoscope accessory channel in short increments.
  • Withdraw the device from the channel slowly.
  • Avoid loops and kinks. (Hard to know whether this instruction applies to use, maintenance, or both. Or neither!)

After Use

  • Roll the device into a coil at least 8 inches (20 centimeters) in diameter.
  • Thoroughly clean the device. (For cleaning instructions, see page xx.)

Let’s see what everyone else came up with.

What a treat to see so many new faces among the great returning faces! (Yo! Shannon!!!)

We’re split between bullets and no bullets…

Points to Shannon, Laura, and Greta; if this sentence is introductory, then there’s no need for any of the detail. (Anne had points within her grasp…)

The contenders for gold: Richard, Donna, Rhonda, and Julian. The envelope, please…

For including a reference to the cleaning instructions…Richard Hamilton, come on down!

Here’s Richard’s winning entry.

To prolong the life of this device:
1) Advance the device through the channel in short increments
2) Withdraw the device gently
3) Avoid loops and kinks in the catheter
4) Clean the device thoroughly, following the instructions in [XREF to the instructions].
5) Coil the device with a minimum diameter of 8 inches (20 cm)


Marcia’s Pick (Marcia Johnston speaking)

The folks who provided last week’s Challenge Sentence revised it as follows:

The following practices can prolong the life of the device:

  • Advance the device through the accessory channel in short increments.
  • Withdraw the device from the channel gently.
  • Avoid looping and kinking the catheter.
  • Roll the device into a coil that has a diameter of 8 inches or greater.
  • Clean the device thoroughly according to the instructions that are included in this booklet.

So yeah, this list beats the dense original paragraph. Still, who talks like this? And do we need all this detail? Do all five points stick in your mind?

Marc Evans brings a thoughtful perspective to the automatic response of creating a bulleted list (as I would have done), noting that the Challenge Sentence struck him “more as a warning about threading [the device] carefully, with supplemental information about cleaning and storage. As such, the parts weren’t equal, so no bullets.”

Several of you also chose a bullet-free approach, going with a condensed, conversational alternative. Shannon Wood (a dear friend from way back, so I’m mentioning her first—deal with the bias) boils everything down to this:

This device will last longer if you advance and remove it gently, avoid kinks and clean it.

Greta Boller takes the same basic approach:

The device will last longest when used gently, cleaned properly, and stored loosely without kinks or loops.

Laura De Santo’s revision achieves an even more condensed simplicity with a touch of whimsy:

Be nice to the device. Treat it gently and keep it clean and it will last a long time.

Would lawyers love these simpler revisions? No way. But I bet humans would read them. For sure, they would read Anne G’s:

Treat your endoscope like a delicate flower.

Which of these revisions would prompt readers to do the right thing? My money’s on Anne’s simile. I grant that it’s not a serious winner. But come on. Delicate flower. When you’re making up your own game (which I advise you to do whenever possible [and it’s always possible]), you get to go with what makes your day. Anne, you’ve saved your employer a cool four mill. You deserve a raise.


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Again, Challenge Sentence 31

Perform a thorough feature assessment and extensive testing of the operating system.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, Jan. 22.]


Index of Challenge Sentences

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29 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 31 [writing/editing game]

  1. For this week’s challenge, I imagined myself in a small windowless room with walls, ceiling, and floor painted bright white. A product lay on the floor with a note which read:

    Assess the product’s features thoroughly and test its operating system extensively.

    I spent the time assessing and testing until I was escorted from the room.

    P.S.: Thank you for the kind words, Larry. I appreciate this (virtual) laurel wreath for many reasons 🙂 other than the simple fact that I did not win the Powerball 🙁 I loved the last four entries Marcia repeated.

  2. Without full context, I assume that the assessment is the result of analyzing the test results:

    Test the operating system to assess its features.

  3. Assess OS features and test thoroughly.

    (Anyone testing an operating system will think “OS” instead of “Operating System”.)

  4. Take it to the limit.

    Submitted in honor of Glenn Frey, who died this week and who along with his Eagles bandmates in 1975 wrote and sang:

    So put me on a highway
    And show me a sign
    And take it to the limit one more time

Comments are closed.