Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 34 [writing/editing game]

this-weeks-challenge-question-marcia-riefer-johnstonWelcome to the concise-writing game, Tighten This! Here’s Challenge Sentence 34, courtesy of my daughter, Elizabeth Poulsen, whose work requires her to wade through a lot of this sort of thing.

The kind of sociodemographic information to be included in the survey is ultimately determined by how the information has been planned to be used.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, Feb. 12.]

Do you battle with bloated writing at work, too? I’m always on the lookout for Challenge Sentences. Send me the worst of your worst!


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:

As the warm-water tank of the hot-water system is used, the temperature of the warm water may become lower if it is continuously used.

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)

One of the fun/challenging/unfair* (pick any that you like) things about our Tighten This! game is that we’re given no context for our Challenge Sentences. Thus we have to make assumptions.

Can we assume that the context for this week’s sentence makes it clear that we’re talking about a hot-water system? I think we can—and most of you evidently agree. Start by striking hot-water system from the Challenge Sentence.

Can we assume that warm-water tank is also suggested by the context? Now I’m not so sure. But … for someone who’s using the system, do they really care about the tank? Or do they just care about the warm water that comes out? Ah! Let’s throw tank into the tank.

In real life, of course, we know the context, and it influences the way we edit our content. Here, we make our best guesses.

The fun of playing Tighten This! comes from making your best guess about context. @Larry_Kunz Click To Tweet

I think that’s why sometimes Marcia, Ray, and I pick different winners. That might very well happen this week (although as I write this I haven’t seen their picks). All of you submitted good sentences. A lot of the judging depends on which of you made similar assumptions to ours.

My pick this week is Laura De Santo’s sentence. She made assumptions similar to mine (listed above). She also replaced become lower with drop. That didn’t need an assumption. That was plain good writing.

If warm water is used continuously, its temperature will drop.

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.”

*In case you’re wondering: out of fun/challenging/unfair, I pick fun and challenging. I hope you do too.

Ray’s Pick (Ray Johnston speaking)

When I run up against a sentence cast entirely in the passive voice, step 1 is easy: I recast it using the active voice. And if the sentence contains, or relates to, instruction, I address it, by default, to you, like this:

As you use water from the warm-water tank, the water temperature may drop if you use the warm water continuously. [21 words]

In this case, simply converting from passive to active cuts word count by nearly 20%. It still sounds bad, though. Why? Partly because of the convoluted if-then structure.

If you’re older than dirt
[then] you might remember this from a vaudeville routine:
……“If I had some ham,
………[then] I’d cook up some ham and eggs.
…………If I had some eggs.”
……………If you still have the use of your long-term memory.

I recast again, combining ifs, removing redundancies, and otherwise simplifying:

If you continuously use warm water, the water temperature may drop. [11 words]

I’ve boiled a (forgive me) watery sentence down to its essence, only to find a GEICO ad: If you run the hot water for a long time, the hot-water tank runs out of hot water. Everyone knows that!

A manufacturer paid someone to come up with this awkward, verbose, and ultimately useless 26-word sentence, and then threw good money after bad by paying a small army of translators to translate it.

Each of this week’s entries greatly improves upon the original. If Jimmy Hatlo were still among us, he’d give a tip of the Hatlo hat to either of Steve Dyson’s renderings. I like the 3:47 version—Warm water: The more you use, the lower the temperature—but I’m going with the 3:50 version, because I think it would be easier for translators to get right:

Warm water: Continuous use lowers the temperature.

tight writing 2

Marcia’s Pick (Marcia Johnston speaking)

I especially like the spirit of Heather Cogan’s clutter-free revision. No one will fall asleep while reading this sentence, which has only seven syllables. Notice how easy it is on your ears.

Hot water runs cold with overuse!

tight writing 3

Thanks, everyone, for playing. For those of you who follow our musings from week to week but haven’t yet played, come on in—the water’s fine!

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Again, Challenge Sentence 34

The kind of sociodemographic information to be included in the survey is ultimately determined by how the information has been planned to be used.

Your revision: _______________________
[Scroll to the bottom and put your revision in a comment by Friday, Feb. 12.]


Index of Challenge Sentences

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26 thoughts on “Tighten This! Challenge Sentence 34 [writing/editing game]

  1. The planned use of the sociodemographic information determines what goes in the survey.

  2. Plans dictate the survey questions.

    [‘Dictate’ is easier to scan and parse than ‘Determine’.]

  3. Oops. I goofed. Maybe “The purpose of the sociodemographic information to gather determines the survey’s contents.” is more accurate.

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