Not the Worst Sentence Ever

There I was, minding my own business on LinkedIn, when I saw a post by a former colleague about safety inspections on fall-prevention equipment. Boring, eh? But wait.

These inspections verify the integrity
of support structures and safety systems.

And I thought, “Wow. It might not sound sexy, but you’d never need to wonder whether your job was worth doing if you were doing that.” So then I thought, “I’ll just leave a nice note. A quick note, you know?”

That’s the kind of job where you never need to wonder
whether what you’re doing is worthwhile.

Mmph. Maybe not the worst sentence ever but hardly the clearest either, eh?  If it weren’t for that business of contradicting the negative of what I mean, it wouldn’t have been so awkward. And so on, into litotes overload.

Litotes (lie-TOH-tees) is an expression
that affirms an idea by contradicting its negative.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t object to this figure of speech in general.

It’s not the clearest RFP I’ve ever seen.

I mean, who among us has not said that?

But, and again in general, we should avoid them in proposal writing. They show up remarkably often, maybe because it’s  a way to avoid what seems like boasting or over-claiming. But the site is called Litotes in Literature not Litotes in Technical Writing. Instead, go for the simple declarative.

This is the stupidest RFP ever.

Bold? Short? Clear? All of the above. (And just to be clear, this declaration has no place in any communication with a client. Ever.)

With all that in mind, I rewrote my nice note.

That’s a job where you know every day
that what you’re doing is worthwhile.

Maybe not the best sentence ever, but better.

 

2 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    At one time, for an editing workshop, I traced the evolution of abstract words. We started with real life words — rusty, crumble, fade, wither, etc. Then someone wants to find a generic word that will cover all of those — mortal, aging, evolving, decline, death… (I’m ignoring parts of speech here.) Then we want a further level of umbrella word — inevitable, limited, terminal… Each level of abstraction moves us farther away from known experience. And someone pushes the abstraction yet a further level, into what no longer has any relevance to life experience, into the opposite of life experience — immortal, infinite, eternal, forever…

    The people who use abstract words know, themselves, how these work back to real life words. But the readers don’t. They just read abstractions, and don’t know to translate back down to their own experience.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Ah. An interesting exercise. I find it a constant struggle to stay in my experience and to use words that help others see what that is/was. It’s not so different on proposals. People tend to hand-waving abstractions about their rich/deep/extensive experience instead of saying how long they’ve been doing precisely what. It’s easier but much less effective.

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