Thursday, December 16, 2004

How to improve writing (no. 1 in a series)

Here's an excerpt from something in my mailbox, inviting employees to participate in a Sick Leave Bank:

The Sick Leave Bank commenced on January 1, 1999. Employee's eligible to participate in the Sick Leave Bank now have the opportunity to enroll or re-enroll in the program. The month of January is the open Enrollment Period for Sick Leave Bank participation.
Obvious changes: Take out commenced, which seems a little pretentious. Began is a good alternative. (I wonder whether anything really began on January 1, since the campus is closed on that day. Hmm.) And fix Employee's, a word that serves as a good example of why you cannot rely upon a spellchecker. It might not be possible to do much about all those capitalized nouns; they might be terms whose capitals are a matter of state bureaucracy. The urgent italics though can go. What's the difference between "eligible employees" and "employees eligible to participate"? Only an unnecessary sort of zeal, as if those who cannot participate are strictly forbidden to try.

This passage might be improved in more substantive ways by combining sentences and placing clear emphasis on what's most important. For instance,
During January 2005, eligible employees may enroll or re-enroll in the Sick Leave Bank. Since 1999, the Sick Leave Bank has helped faculty and staff who have exhausted their available leave time while facing catastrophic illness or injury.
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