Tighten that writing

Pamela Hill Nettleton | University of Minnesota

My teaching idea draws on my years spent editing down copy and tightening up copy. I break my magazine writing class of 20 into 5 groups of four and then project overhead a list of 35 facts I've made up about a fictional court trial about to begin. Some of the facts are silly: the defense attorney is an Aries, the prosecutor is single, etc., to give students something to toss out. The rest are typical facts about the case, the attorneys, etc.

Each group has to pack as many facts into 2 sentences as they can in 15 minutes. Then each group sends a person up to write their 2 sentences on the board; we count up the facts and see who wins.

Students have gotten very creative with this. Some construct straightforward news leads and learn they can really pack a lot of information into a sentence if they work at it. Others, since mine is a magazine writing course, get more creative and take chances with sometimes rather wonderful results.

Many students comment in the end-of-course evaluation that this is one of the most helpful exercises for them; it really helps them see the many ways to condense information and make their words work harder.

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