How often must we hear the mantra of value in real estate? Location, location, location.
Maybe not as often as we should hear the mantra of clarity in writing: Precision, precision, precision.
Consider this example: “The Louisville police department released a letter of termination it sent to the officer who ‘blindly fired’ 10 rounds into a covered patio door.”
Written that way, the sentence would have us believe that the patio door was covered.
We get the true meaning if the sentence is written this way: “The Louisville police department released a letter of termination it sent to the officer who ‘blindly fired’ into the door of a covered patio.”
The impulse to compress ideas often leads to constructions that befuddle a reader.
Another example: A mask mandate exemption for people of color meant to address racial profiling concerns has been removed after racist backlash, Oregon county officials said.
That sentence begins with three nouns stacked — mask, mandate and exemption — forcing a reader to work to unstack them.
Far better to write that county officials have removed an exemption for people of color from the mandate that every citizen wear a mask. Just reverse the order of those nouns.
If your sentence, read aloud, does not sound conversational, rewrite it.
This column most recently dealt with ways to eliminate bloated language, in the interest of economy and clarity. I shortened a 73-word paragraph to 39 words. Several readers matched that revised total, and one beat our record, with 38.
But the response that impressed me most came from Melissa Anderson, a University of Minnesota professor of higher education. She blazed her own path, by (almost) matching the paragraph’s meaning in only 17 syllables — the official length of the Japanese poetry form known as haiku:
“Pleasantville: stores closed, park empty — until hundreds come to mourn George Floyd.”
I said Melissa “almost” matched the meaning; she omitted the outdoor dining cited in the original piece, thereby leaving some folks hungry. Still, she served up something delicious.
Gary Gilson is a Twin Cities writing coach.