It’s time for the Winter Olympics! (A message to my friends: Don’t try calling me when ice dancing is on – I’ll be planted in front of the TV set. Go, Shibutanis!)
I’ve been watching figure skating since high school. (Anybody else out there still remember Scotty Allen?) I can tell you within a few seconds whether a skater or couple really has their act together. But I’ve never tried to learn the names of the jumps.
So I was grateful when our newspaper printed an article explaining some basic terms in figure skating…and not grateful for the lack of copyediting.
So here’s a challenge for you. How would you fix the excerpt below? (Hint: there are no grammar or usage issues – just some practices that professional writers shouldn’t use.) Scroll down for my edits.
There are certain set “elements” required in each skating performance, such as jumps, spins, etc. A given performance is first looked at by a team of technical specialists, aided by video replay, to make sure each required element was indeed included, and whether the elements were done correctly (for example, was a “triple axel” actually more like two and a half?)
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- Delete the quotation marks. Elements and triple axel are proper skating terms. Don’t apologize for them.
- Avoid etc. in professional writing.
- There’s no difference between “a given performance” and “a performance.” Delete “given.”
- The second sentence is too long – 46 words. Break it into several sentences. (I rewrote it as four sentences.)
- Avoid passive voice: “is first looked at by a team of technical specialists.” Make it active: “First a team of technical specialists looks at the performance.”
Here’s my version:
Each skating performance must include jumps, spins, and other required elements. First a team of technical specialists looks at the performance. Aided by video replay, they make sure each required element was indeed included. Then they decide whether the elements were done correctly. For example, was a triple axel actually more like two and a half?
How did you do?
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I have one more comment. (This is for everyone who’s afraid that readers will snicker if you write simply and plainly.) I just ran my version through the Gunning Fog Index. The reading level came out as sophomore level in college. Even though I broke the last sentence into four shorter ones, it’s still well above the average person’s reading level.
What about the original version? It came in at the reading level of a college graduate – far too difficult for a newspaper. (Did you know that the USA Today newspaper aims for a 10th grade reading level?)
You can check the reading level of your own writing at http://gunning-fog-index.com/. It might be a worthwhile experiment!