horrible sentence of the day – learning content

“In the event of learning content containing erroneous information, you are able to communicate this accordingly, by means of the commentary function, directly within the learning content.”

Wow – that’s a really horrible sentence.

It’s 27 words long, which is bad enough. But so many of those words are also vague, difficult, irrelevant or frankly pompous.

This is from the introduction to an online training package, which doesn’t fill me with hope. And it’s such an easy sentence to get right, that they seem to have put a lot of effort into making it so vile.

Let’s take a closer look:

In the event of – What’s wrong with the word ‘if’?

learning content – Well, it’s a training package, so it’s all learning content. We might be able to get rid of this empty phrase entirely.

erroneous information – Or ‘mistakes’ as they are commonly known.

you are able to – Simply saying ‘you can’ would be a good alternative. After all, why use four words, when two do the same job? But, if you want someone to do something, it’s much better to give clear directions rather than just letting people know what they ‘can’ do. Swapping ‘you are able to’ for ‘please’ would do this, and then we’ve managed to cut four words down to one.

communicate this – Tell? Report this? Even ‘notify’ might be better. Plus, who should we ‘communicate this’ to? The sentence gives us no information about who we should to tell about the mistakes, just how to tell them.

accordingly – This adds nothing – so let’s cut it.

by means of – There are several better alternatives, including ‘by using’ or ‘through’ or ‘with’.

the commentary functionThis is a bit jargony, but it is referring to a specific thing called the ‘commentary’ function, so we’re going to leave it in.

directly within the learning content – The ‘commentary function’ on this package is *only* available when you are looking at ‘learning content’, so this is redundant information.

Whoever wrote this horrible sentence might have been worried that people wouldn’t know where or what the commentary function was. But simply telling them that it is ‘directly within the learning content’ isn’t much of a help.

It would be better to add a new sentence that provides a link to the additional information.

So – we can get rid of that complicated 27 word sentence and swap it for this one, with 14 words;

“If you spot a mistake, please use the ‘commentary’ function to let us know.”

I’d also add a sentence before and after, so we end up with something like this…

“We try to make sure that the information in this training package is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

If you spot a mistake, please use the ‘commentary’ function to let us know.

You can find out more about the ‘commentary’ function in the user guide.”

There. Isn’t that better?

Have you been forced to read a particularly horrible sentence recently? Why not share the pain, send me some horrible writing, and I’ll see if I can fix it?


//This is an edited version of a post that was originally published in May 2012.