How to render a press release tolerable

I had an epiphany: there is simple way to greatly improve the readability of any press release.  All you have to do is cut out all the adjectives.

For example, consider the recent press release eZuce Expands Strategic Technology Alliances To Deliver Advanced Communications, which begins:

PRLog (Press Release) – Oct 01, 2010 – Newburyport, MA. October 1, 2010 — eZuce Inc. has developed strategic alliances with several of today’s leading technology vendors to enhance its open unified communications solutions portfolio. Through collaborative development efforts and ongoing integration testing and certifications, eZuce delivers next generation technology innovations that address the demanding, complex requirements of enterprises and enables customers to seamlessly transition from their existing legacy (IP) PBX systems.

Don’t your eyes just slide right off this when you try to read it?  Now let’s get rid of the adjectives:

PRLog (Press Release) – Oct 01, 2010 – Newburyport, MA. October 1, 2010 — eZuce Inc. has developed strategic alliances with several of today’s leading technology vendors to enhance its open unified communications solutions portfolio. Through collaborative development efforts and ongoing integration testing and certifications, eZuce delivers next generation technology innovations that address the demanding, complex requirements of enterprises and enables customers to seamlessly transition from their existing legacy (IP) PBX systems.

[I was generous; I allowed “technology”, “solutions”, “integration” and “technology” (again) to survive.]

Isn’t this better?

PRLog (Press Release) – Oct 01, 2010 – Newburyport, MA. October 1, 2010 — eZuce Inc. has developed alliances with technology vendors to enhance its solutions portfolio. Through development efforts and integration testing and certifications, eZuce delivers technology innovations that address the requirements of enterprises and enables customers to transition from their legacy systems.

Now you can kind of see what it says (which, admittedly, is pretty much nothing).  Also you can now clearly see the subject/verb mismatch “technology innovations that … enables customers …”.

This works for mission statements, too.  For example, the mission statement of Mdv Nash Finch is that “We are a performance driven culture that uses metrics to ensure continuous improvement. Through our distribution and marketing competencies, we provide creative, customized solutions for our customers”.  Chuck out the adjectives and adjectival phrases and you’re left with “We are a culture that uses metrics to ensure improvement. We provide solutions for our customers”, which I think is a big improvement.  And Proctor and Gamble’s statement, “We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come” simplifies handily to “We will provide products and services that improve the lives of consumers”, which actually sounds pretty good.

The moral

Are your adjectives earning their keep?  When you write — whether it’s press releases, software manuals, novels, blog entries or academic papers — be sure that you’re  not throwing in words that up the count without adding substance.

Rule 13 in Strunk and White [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk] is “Omit needless words” — advice as good now as it was when originally published in 1918.  I leave you with S&W’s characteristically terse exposition of this rule:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Amen!

11 responses to “How to render a press release tolerable

  1. Learn the art of precis… :-) Most useful thing I took from a year in a top English boarding school (alma mater of P.G. Wodehouse).

  2. I think the “PBX” or even “(IP)PBX” should have been left it, it’s a noun that got deputized as an adjective.

    “Writing is. A sentence should contain no words, a paragraph no sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no lines and a machine no parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

    Hmm, fewer and fewer adjectives as they approach the punchline.

  3. You have left in more adjectives than you say: you allow development efforts and legacy systems.

    I think some of your choices are contentious. Rather than retaining ‘development efforts’, why not write ‘collaborative development’? It retains the sense of the original and brings the whole thing one step nearer being written in English.

    I claim there is no such thing as a ‘solutions portfolio’ – there is no adjective ‘solutions’. A ‘portfolio of solutions’ is better; I believe the construct is very ugly and should be avoided. This can be achieved by memorising the remark a former colleague: if you aren’t part of the solution, you must be part of the precipitate.

    When you deleted ‘seamlessly’, you harvested an adverb rather than an adjective, so broke your own rules. Since you also healed a notably ugly split infinitive, I am prepared to forgive you, although the alleged verb ‘to transition’ urgently needs sacking too.

    I have several more objections to what remains, but that will do for the time being. Have pity on the poor dolt, with no interest in the product, who has to turn such garbage into items of news in a trade journal. In the past – you might have guessed – that poor dolt was me.

  4. Funny stuff, Steve Witham. I’m sure you fully understood that my point wasn’t that every adjective is necessarily bad — the instances of “unnecessary” in the Strunk and White quote are doing real work. The problem is a widespread tendency to decorate writing with adjectives, and indeed adverbs, that add no additional information. Not something that S&W had a tendency to do!

    Will Watts, for the same reason I allowed “legacy systems”: that word is actually telling you something (unlike the “existing” that precedes it in the original). I agree that some of my choices are less than optimal: if I were actually trying to rewrite the press-release for clarity rather than just making a smartarse point, I’d have done it very differently.

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention How to render a press release tolerable | The Reinvigorated Programmer -- Topsy.com

  6. “legacy” is not an adjective, it is a noun (lexical class) being used as a modifier (grammatical function). (Think “apple” in “apple pie.”)

    And I agree, I don’t know why people write this kind of garbage, or who it is supposed to impress.

  7. That reminds me of how I was taught to be careful with my use of “existing.” eZuce will not help me transition from my non-existent legacy system? Damn!

    There is an argument to be made for using “enables” rather than “enable” there, by the way. It depends on whether it is eZuce or its technology innovations that are doing the enabling — barring the verb agreement it could go either way.

  8. I don’t see how that can be parsed as saying that eZuce is enabling. The parallelism goes: technology innovations that (A) address the requirements of enterprises, and (B) enables customers to transition. And “innovations and enables” is garbage.

  9. “The problem is a widespread tendency to decorate writing with adjectives, ” and indeed adverbs, that add no additional information. Not something that S&W had a tendency to do!”

    I remember creative writing classes at primary school where this [unfortunate] practice was [regularly] drilled into us. The received wisdom was that it was [highly] unlikely you’d pass the Written English part of the 11-plus (it wasn’t multiple choice in those days) unless your prose was as flowery as a [verdant alpine] meadow. It’s a [dreadful] habit that I still find [extraordinarily] difficult to kick :)

  10. Yes, Vince, that is a horribly familiar story. I’m sure it’s good and proper that kids should be given exercises in using adjectives and adverbs: like any other tool in the language kit, they should be learned. But there does seem to be a frightening tendency to slip from “it’s good to do exercises in this style” to “it’s good to use this style” and even from there to “this is good style”.

    I suppose I ought to revisit some of the earlier Reinvigorated Programmer posts and see how much they would benefit from adjectivotomy. Your example with the square brackets is instructive.

  11. Irony of the week: Strunk & White used *more* adjectives than the average English writer. They couldn’t even follow their own rules.

    Might I suggest that the problem with these press releases is not that they have a lot of adjectives: it is that they are meaningless, flabby pieces of writing that are much improved by cutting out *anything*.

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