Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How to improve writing (no. 14 in a series)

As we lunched in a chic bistro (i.e., Subway), Elaine brought these sentences to my attention. From a package of Subway apple slices:

I see at least three problems:

Subject-verb disagreement: medley, are. But changing the verb won't help, as it makes no sense to say that the medley is picked.

The phrase "packaged into" is cumbersome: the slices are packaged in a bag.

There's a general air of overkill. As far as I can tell, all apples are harvested by hand — difficult, painful work. An apple's "best flavor" could probably be had without the addition of vitamin C as a preservative. A "specially designed bag" is a bag, which you already know about if you've bought this item. An "apple crunch" is the only crunch an apple can have.

A possible improvement, preserving some of the flavor of the original:
A medley of sweet red and tart green apples, picked at the peak of ripeness. The slices are cleaned and packaged to lock in their juicy crunch.
I'd prefer to eliminate the second sentence, but I suspect that it's meant to reassure someone, somewhere, that this product is fit to eat.

This post is no. 14 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of published prose.

(Thanks, Elaine!)
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comments: 6

Matthew Schmeer said...


A succinct rewrite. The original overstated the obvious, and ignored Strunk's classic Commandment 13.

Lee said...

Though your rewrite is a great improvement, I deliberately pick a medley of berries - redcurrant, blackcurrant, even white ones - every time I go into the garden. However, I assume each sort of apple is harvested separately and mixed later for packaging.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for commenting, Matthew.

Lee, picking a medley sounds fine; it's the is that sounds odd to my ears. I dodged the question of the verb in my revision: A medley of . . . , picked, etc.

Lee said...

I spent some time flitting round online and off, and even in the OED there's at least one example of medley with a plural verb. In BritE one tends to let meaning dictate verb agreement for collective nouns, and I suppose medley could be regarded as one, though personally I'm not so inclined.

Now is this procrastination or a desire for precision and clarity on my part?

Anonymous said...

Nice pick out of all the grammatical errors. The bag though, is not just a bag. There is a lot of engineering that goes into producing packaging for fresh cuts.

Michael Leddy said...

I don't doubt that packaging apple slices involves serious engineering. My complaint is about "specially designed" — to me, that sounds like overkill. "Packaged to lock in their juicy crunch" acknowledges that the packaging preserves freshness.