Saturday, November 12, 2005

How to improve writing (no. 11 in a series)

I noticed this example of "educationese" yesterday in a newsletter for parents:

The school district will be implementing a new call out system to assist the building in calling parents with announcements.
How many problems in this sentence?
"Implementing" is mere jargon.

"Implementing," "building," "calling": three "-ings" in one sentence.

"Call out system" is, at best, imprecise; at worst, obscure. (What is a "call out system"?) A Google search suggests that "call-out system" is the usual phrase.

The reference to "the building" is oddly dehumanizing. And what sort of building is capable of making phone calls, even with a newly implemented system to assist it?
Howzabout this revised sentence?
We'll be using an automated calling system to contact parents with announcements.
From 20 words to 12; from 31 syllables to 22.

Even better:
We'll be using an automated system to call parents with announcements.
From 12 words to 11; from 22 syllables to 19.

And better still:
We'll use automated dialing to call parents with announcements.
From 11 words to 9; from 19 syllables to 17. Final savings: over 50% off.

This post is the most recent installment in a very occasional series.

Link » Other How to improve writing posts, via Pinboard

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

It still sounds partly as if you'll send something to parents who have announcements, and it doesn't identify the parents. How about this: We'll send announcements automatically to students' parents.

We at the school board have reached the following conclusion: it has been the coincidence of our perspectives that the newly elected system gives occasion for not inconsiderable gratification. Cordially yours, Branford L. Weatherby, MBA, PhD, LLD, DO, BO, SUV

Michael Leddy said...


I know--"parents with announcements" bugs me too. Your revision's better in that respect, but is it clear that the announcements will be coming by phone?

Ben just suggested an improvement: "We'll send announcements to parents with automated dialing." Down to 8 words, 16 syllables.

Sad to say, Dr. Weatherby's loquacious verbosity is emulated by a myriad of aspirant pedagogues. (The passive voice in that sentence is deliberate!)