Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand

About Programming, the World at Large and the Meaning of Life.

Or, to be more specific: About whatever I feel like. Don't say you weren't warned.

In Joyous Celebration of Excessive Wordiness and Pleonastic Obscurantism

Writing Posted by Petter Hesselberg Thu, May 10, 2007 09:26

Here is an example of what passes for communication these days (slightly modified to protect the guilty), written in fluent consultantese and totaling 39 words:

For the Attention of all Business Partner's and Manager's:

The purpose of this memorandum is to inform all Business Partner's and Managers that a series of Vendor Product training courses have been organized as part of the EWPO Program.

This is about par for the course. So what’s the problem? Or rather, what are the problems?

To begin with, the writer is ignorant of the difference between the plural and the possessive: “Business Partners” and “Managers” (possessive) should be “Business Partners” and “Managers” (plural). To add insult to injury, the writer even lacks the street smarts to err consistently; the body of the email has “Business Partners” (incorrect), but “Managers” (correct).

One might also, on a churlish day, question the Capitalization in the Message Body. But I’m feeling mellow today; I’ll refrain.

Instead, let’s talk about useless filler words. This writer’s sin deserves a significant share of the blame for rain forest decimation; it causes the human race to use twice as much paper as necessary.

“The purpose of this memorandum is…”

It has a purpose? Who’d have guessed!

Finally, compare the underlined parts:

For the Attention of all Business Partner's and Manager's:

The purpose of this memorandum is to inform all Business Partner's and Managers that a series of Vendor Product training courses have been organized as part of the EWPO Program.

Redundancy, anyone? The target audience was mentioned in the heading; no need to repeat this in the body. And to write “the purpose […] is to inform” is akin to saying “this memorandum is interesting”. Don't declare something to be interesting; make it so! Don’t talk about informing; do it!

If the memorandum had not been written to inform, this curious fact might’ve been worthy of mention.

So, since I'm such a smart-aleck: how should this memorandum read?

Here is one version, totaling 22 words:

To all Business Partners and Managers:

A series of Vendor Product training courses have been organized as part of the EWPO Program.

It’s still in the passive voice, which is acceptable if we really and truly do want “training courses” as the subject of the sentence. If not, we can rephrase in the active voice, trimming the memorandum to 18 words (for a total savings of 54%, or roughly half a rain forest):

To all Business Partners and Managers:

The EWPO Program has organized a series of Vendor Product training courses.

Just in case you’re wondering: EWPO is indeed an acronym for Excessive Wordiness and Pleonastic Obscurantism. Most organizations appear to have such a program. And whatever else gets the axe, this program is always funded to the hilt.


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