Sunday, March 9, 2008

Rewriting a Terrible Sentence: Step One

“Pulling together all the information that will be needed before starting to generate hardware groups makes the process go faster and helps avoid costly changes later.”

I had intended to post the entire paragraph from which I drew this sentence, as an example of technical writing gone horribly awry. Upon subsequent re-reading, I decided that it would take a far, far longer post than normal to address the myriad issues. We'll have to make do with a rewrite of this one sentence.

For context, imagine that you read this as the last sentence in the description of a seminar. Does this inspire faith that the presenter will engage your interest? Does it lead you to believe that you will find the class useful and even vaguely enjoyable? I think not.

How can we improve the mess that this organization has published? Let's start with some consolidation. Rather than “Pulling together” we'll use “Gathering”. Eliminate “all”, change “that will be needed” to “necessary”, and move it back a word. Now we have, “Gathering the necessary information before...”. Here, we come to yet another gerund-infinitive combination, “starting to generate”. Why not just “generating”?

The two-fold verbs and predicates can also be simplified, into “makes the process faster and more accurate”. Why use two verbs when one will do?

Thus, the new sentence becomes, “Gathering the necessary information before generating hardware groups makes the process faster and more accurate.” I see improvement, but we can do better. Check back for a second post that takes version two from acceptable to attention-getting.