© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Odds and Ends Again

Consolidate, Consolidate, Consolidate

Here is a passage from an article about hormone replacement therapy.
The best evidence for the risks and benefits of postmenopausal hormone use comes from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a large randomized clinical trial of over 16,000 healthy women ages 50 through 79, in which half of the participants took hormones and the other half took a placebo pill (which does not contain any drug). The trial, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was halted early when, in July 2002, investigators reported that the overall risks of estrogen plus progestin, specifically Prempro™, outweighed the benefits. The WHI found that use of this estrogen plus progestin pill increases the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and blood clots. The study also found that there were fewer cases of hip fractures and colon cancer among women using estrogen plus progestin than in those taking a placebo.

The author seems to be trying to get too much information into too little space. The problem is the reader feels as if she were just hit by a truck. Now did I get that license number or not? Consolidate means to bring together as a unit. Now if the writer takes the time to think what the actual intent of this paragraph is, he might come up with something like this.

A lot of what is known about the risks and benefits of hormone use comes from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). The WHI is a large clinical trial of over 16,000 healthy women between the ages of 50 and 79. Half of the women took hormones. The other half took a placebo. In July 2002, the trial was stopped early. That’s because the data showed the overall risks of estrogen plus progestin outweighed the benefits. Using the combined hormone pill increased the risk of:

· breast cancer
· heart disease
· stroke
· blood clots

On the other hand, women taking the pill had fewer cases of hip fractures and colon cancer.

The important question to ask is what does the reader want to know? And how can I make sure the reader can find it?

Need to know vs nice to know

When you work in the area of patient education, or investor education, or legal client education, or . . ., there is one very important distinction that a writer (or an editor) needs to make. That is the distinction between what the reader needs to know and what is nice to know. Too often, the writer has information he or she wants to share just because he or she has it. But unless that information advances the reader's ability to do what the reader needs to do, it can get in the way of the information the reader needs. Consider this passage from a question and answer article about dietary supplements.

What is a dietary supplement?

Congress defined the term "dietary supplement" in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. A dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to supplement the diet. The "dietary ingredients" in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites. Dietary supplements can also be extracts or concentrates, and may be found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, liquids, or powders. They can also be in other forms, such as a bar, but if they are, information on their label must not represent the product as a conventional food or a sole item of a meal or diet. Whatever their form may be, DSHEA places dietary supplements in a special category under the general umbrella of "foods," not drugs, and requires that every supplement be labeled a dietary supplement.

Now I ask you, what is a dietary supplement? I'm not sure the following edit clearly answers the question yet, but it at least gets rid of the DSHEA, which really has nothing to do with what the reader needs to know.

A dietary supplement is something you take by mouth that gives you something your diet may be missing. That may be:

· vitamins
· minerals
· herbs
· other botanicals
· amino acids
· substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites

Supplements can also be extracts or concentrates. They may be found in many forms including:

· tablets
· capsules
· soft gels
· gel caps
· liquids
· powders

They can also be in other forms. For instance a supplement may come as a bar. But by law, the information on the label cannot represent the product as a conventional food. Nor can it call it the sole item of a meal or diet. By law, dietary supplements fall into a special category under the general umbrella of "foods" not drugs. And they must be labeled a dietary supplement.

The edit also got rid of some really distracting redundancies. But that's a different post.

On a personal note

I just finished two huge projects that have been going on for months. One started in May. The other in July. They couldn't have ended at a better time. My daughter and her husband are coming with their kids. That means I get to devote all my time this weekend to being the Grandpa.


  1. Very informative,grandpa,that's why they pay you the big bucks! :)

    It's good to be the grandpa.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Peace - Rene

  2. How wonderful that you get to spend the holiday weekend with family! I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  3. Thanks, Rene. I really appreciate your comments. Have a Happy Thanksgiving too.

    Derfina, family = fun plus a lot more. Have a good Thanksgiving.

  4. I bow to you.

    One of my earliest mentors advised me to "don't get caught up in the writer's bad language." It can be really tempting as a editor to try to preserve too much. And that leaves a piece that looks "fixed."

    Masterful work.

  5. Great post, Grandpa,and timely. At work, we have always done narrative progress notes, and our esteemed leaders are asking us to write using DAP (Describe, Assess, Plan), in order to write more concise notes. Ha! We are all moaning and groaning. Thanks!

    And Happy Thanksgiving, Grandpa.

  6. Thanks, 45. I appreciate that. That was good advise from your mentor. And by the way, I hear you do pretty good work yourself.

    Braja, I often need to go lie down after I finish editing some of the stuff I have to edit.

  7. I love your tips.

    Have a great time with the family!

  8. Thanks, Gran. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

    Maria, I'm glad you find the posts helpful. Have a great holiday.

  9. Thanks again, for being a great teacher... now go enjoy being a grandpa.

  10. Thank you very much. I usually think that my open-mouthed lack of understanding of this kind of text is due to the fact that English is not my mother tongue. From this day on I'll always tell myself that it's really the author's fault.
    You made my day.
    On a more serious note: I wish you a peaceful Thanksgiving with your family. Hopefully you go more for the 'little red riding hood' style with your wee ones.

  11. Thanks, Marty. I wish a lot of things I do were as easy as enjoying being a grandpa.

    I appreciate the compliment, Kanani. Thank you.

    Julia, it's always the author's fault. :0)

  12. Very interesting reading, wonderfully informative. Have a great Thanksgiving with your Family.