Sunday, January 2, 2022

How to improve writing (no. 99)

Talking Points Memo makes it way too easy:

In your opinion, are Republican candidates in midterm elections who have received former President Trump’s endorsement more likely or less likely to win their primary races than Republican candidates who did not?

☐ More likely
☐ Less likely
☐ Just as likely
☐ I’m not sure
☐ Other / No opinion
Richard Lanham’s paramedic method for revising prose can work wonders with this question. Lanham details the method in his Revising Prose (2007). A page from the Purdue Online Writing Lab summarizes it. What the paramedic method might help a writer notice in TPM’s question: the slow windup (“in your opinion,” not needed when the question is prefaced by the header “What do you think?”), the ungainly repetition of the preposition in, the use of a form of to be (are ) as the main verb, the lack of agency (who does what?). Better:
Will Donald Trump’s endorsement help or hurt a Republican candidate in a midterm primary race?

☐ Help
☐ Hurt
☐ Neither
☐ Undecided
From thirty-two words to fifteen. I’ve changed the answers to fit the new question and have removed the mysterious “Other / No opinion.”

I have no idea whether Trump**’s endorsement will help or hurt Mary (“Hitler was right on one thing”) Miller.

Related posts
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[I’m keen on Revising Prose, hugely helpful for teaching writing but ridiculously expensive. The publisher, Pearson, does itself no favor by setting a high price ($66.65!) for a cheaply made, poorly designed, 166-page paperback. Why Trump** ? Two asterisks for two impeachments. This post is no. 99 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

comments: 6

Daughter Number Three said...

Did I hear that Mary Miller's district has been combined with another Republican's after the census-based reconfiguration?

Michael Leddy said...

Sort of. They redrew the map and eliminated her seat. The link has a brief account of what happened. However her primary goes, she won’t be my representative in Congress, not that the guy we get is much better.

Joe DiBiase said...

I'm all for fewer words, however, I think something is lost in the improved version. "More likely or less likely to win" is not the same as "help or hurt." A candidate could be helped and still lose, or hurt and still win.

Here's my improved version, with 20 words:

"Are candidates in midterm elections with an endorsement by Donald Trump more or less likely to win their primary races?"

The 1st four answers from the original version can remain unchanged, the fifth should be eliminated.

Michael Leddy said...

I think your version, too, improves the original, but it should really ask about midterm primary races (since you can’t be a candidate in a midterm election until you’ve won a primary).

I’m trying to see the difference between help/hurt and more likely/less likely. If you’ve been helped, your chances are better, even if you lose, no? Maybe you lose by a smaller margin. If you’re hurt, your chances are worse, even if you win, no? Maybe you win by a smaller margin. Am I missing something?

Joe DiBiase said...

Good call on my omission of the primary election language.

When the original language says "more likely or less likely to win," isn't the author trying to determine if a Trump endorsement will help result in a win, not just help get a non-winning higher vote count?

Michael Leddy said...

Well, yes. I still think “help” and “hurt” suggest the chances of winning/losing. But how about this: “Will Donald Trump’s endorsement in a Republican primary make a candidate more likely to win, or lose?”

(I like to use that persnickety comma before “or.” Would you like coffee or tea? Yes. Would you like coffee, or tea? Coffee.)