A sidcha to improve your writing

December 31, 2018 by Joshua
in Habits, SIDCHAs

My publisher recommended an exercise to help write concisely, which she found at a page called Very Good Copy in an article called This exercise will train you to write more concisely.

A screen shot of the page my publisher recommended

It says, “If your goal is to write tighter copy — copy that says more in fewer words — try this 15-minute exercise. . . rewrite a Wikipedia paragraph to a third of its original length (e.g., edit ~150 words down to ~50 words) without sacrificing its meaning.”

The page gave an example. Moreover, it stated the exercise as a sidcha: “Do it once a day, five days a week for a month, and your writing will improve. Do it once a day, five days a week for a year, and the quality of your writing will surpass that of most professional copywriters.”

While I have plenty of sidchas, the appeal of a short-term exercise that cost nothing was too great to resist. Plus Wikipedia articles are so wordy, I knew I could feel I was showing them.

I didn’t do it daily, but translated 5 days a week for a month to 21 instances and did that, using Wikipedia’s Random Article link. If you’re looking to improve your writing, I recommend it. As with any experiential exercise, you learn from doing it things you can’t learn from someone telling you, nor could you tell to others.

Here are my results. I welcome constructive criticism. I’d lay it out to make it easier to read, but WordPress’s new editor seems to have lost functionality.


1. Old (101 words), from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Australian_colonial_election,_1870:

Since the inaugural 1857 election, no parties or solid groupings had been formed, which resulted in frequent changes of the Premier. If for any reason the incumbent Premier of South Australia lost sufficient support through a successful motion of no confidence at any time on the floor of the house, he would tender his resignation to the Governor of South Australia, which would result in interested members declaring their intent to run for the vacant position. A parliamentary ballot would then take place, resulting in the member with the most votes being sworn in by the Governor as the next Premier.

New (32 words):

Since the government formed in 1857, no parties or coalitions formed and the Premier changed frequently. Votes of no confidence led Premiers to resign and the parliament to elect a new one.

2. Old (260 words), from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Scientific_Center

In December 1975 Richard MacKinnon became director of the center, succeeding Dr. William Timlake who, in turn, had succeeded Rasmussen. As the third director, MacKinnon was to serve as its longest-tenured director. During his tenure Cambridge Scientific Center was responsible for a number of enhancements to the VM/370 operating system which became IBM’s most popular interactive computing system. These included: an enhanced scheduler for the operating system based on the work of Lynn Wheeler; the so-called VNET networking capability based upon the work of Edson Hendrick and Tim Hartman; multiprocessor support for the IBM asymmetric MPs, led by Howard Holley; IBM’s first UNIX system under VM for the National Security Agency; a remote operations capability for VM led by Love Seawright and David Boloker and done in conjunction with the University of Maine, Orono {and which spread throughout IBM’s processor lines}; a special controller which allowed ASCII terminals to access VM {done in conjunction with Yale university Comp Center and its director, Greydon Freeman}; and the ASCII software support for the IBM PC which allowed PCs to access IBM and many other non-IBM mainframes {the work of Jim Perchik}. The VNET networking software became the basis for IBM’s internal corporate data network {which had over 3,000 IBM processor nodes} and the university BITNET network which was facilitated by Cambridge in conjunction with Yale Computer Center {Grey Freeman}and CUNY computer center {Ira Fuchs}. MacKinnon served at Cambridge for 18 years and in July 1992 had the unenviable responsibility of closing CSC when IBM decided to close all its scientific centers worldwide.

New (84 words):

In December 1975, Richard MacKinnon became its third director—after William Timlake and Rasmussen, and longest-tenured at 18 years. Under him, the center improved the VM/370 operating system, becoming IBM’s most popular—including its scheduler, networking (called VNET), multiprocessor support, UNIX, remote operations, ASCII terminal access, and PC access to mainframes. IBM based its over-3,000 node corporate network on VNET, as did the university BITNET network facilitated by Cambridge, Yale, and CUNY. MacKinnon oversaw closing the center when IBM closed all its scientific centers.

3. Old (124 words), from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arena_Football_Hall_of_Fame:

The Arena Football Hall of Fame is the official Hall of Fame of the Arena Football League (AFL). The inaugural class was announced in 1998 and the Hall was not formally organized until 2011. Prior to 2011, there were four classes: 1998–2000 and then another in 2002. The Arena Football Hall of Fame is the highest honor for players, coaches, and contributors involved in the AFL. The voting process consists of fans and current Hall of Fame members voting on the finalists. The finalists are selected by the League Office in which they collect ballots from the Arena Football Hall of Fame Advisory Board, a group which consisted of former players, executives, journalists and media personnel with a long-time involvement in the league.

New(41 words):

The Arena Football Hall of Fame is the AFL’s highest official honor. It inducted its first class in 1998, officially founding in 2011. Its Advisory Board nominates players, coaches, and stakeholders. The League Office selects nominees, whom Fans and members elect.

4. Old (179 words), from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Vanzo:

Vanzo was then immediately invited to sing at the Opéra-Comique and at the Palais Garnier quickly establishing himself in the standard French lyric repertory, such as Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles, Gérald in Lakmé, Faust, Roméo in Roméo et Juliette, Vincent in Mireille, des Grieux in Manon, etc. He also sang the Italian repertory, such as the Duke in Rigoletto, Alfredo in La Traviata, Rodolfo in La bohème. He won great acclaim at the Palais Garnier in 1960, as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, opposite Joan Sutherland who was making her debut there. This was the beginning of his international career, appearing at many of the major opera houses in Europe, the Royal Opera House in London, La Monnaie in Brussels, the Liceu in Barcelona, the Vienna State Opera, etc. Vanzo also appeared in North America, on tour with the Paris Opera, singing Faust, and in South America at the Teatro Colón in Les contes d’Hoffmann. He sang at Carnegie Hall in New York, as Gennaro, in the famous 1965 concert version of Lucrezia Borgia, opposite Montserrat Caballé.

New(55 words):

Vanzo soon sang at the Opéra-Comique and Palais Garnier in French and Italian repertory winning great acclaim, continuing to the great opera houses including London, Brussels, Barcelona, and Vienna, then the Americas with the Paris Opera. Highlights include debuting Joan Sutherland in Palais Garnier in 1960 and opposite Montserrat Caballé at Carnegie Hall in 1965.

5. Old (80 words), from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Cross_(DE-448):

Departing New York 22 March 1945, Cross called at San Diego, California, before arriving at Pearl Harbor for additional training. She sailed on 8 May escorting a convoy for Ulithi, and from 29 May to 11 September Cross continued to escort vital supply-laden convoys from Ulithi to Okinawa. After repairs at Okinawa, she called at San Diego and Boston, Massachusetts, then put in at Green Cove Springs, Florida, where she was placed out of commission in reserve 14 June 1946.

New (26 words):

Cross sailed from New York on March 22 to Pearl Harbor to escort convoys in the Pacific. Eventually, she was decommissioned in Florida June 14, 1946.

6. Old (77 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Diff%27rent_Strokes_characters

Phillip has a daughter, Kimberly, and two adopted African American sons, Willis and his younger brother Arnold Jackson. He also has an eccentric elder sister named Sophia (played by Dody Goodman). Arnold and Willis’s mother, Lucy Jackson (portrayed by Todd Bridges’ real-life mother), worked as a housekeeper for the Drummonds years ago; her death-bed wish was that Phillip would take care of her two sons. In the series pilot, Phillip welcomes Arnold and Willis into his home.

New (25 words):

Phillip has a daughter, a sister, and two adopted African-American sons whose mother was his housekeeper. He honors her deathbed wish to care for them.

7. Old (94 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKinsey_%26_Company

McKinsey was merged with accounting firm Scovell, Wellington & Company that same year, creating the New York-based McKinsey, Wellington & Co. and splitting off the accounting practice into Chicago-based Wellington & Company. A Wellington project that accounted for 55 percent of McKinsey, Wellington & Company’s billings was about to expire and Kearney and Bower had disagreements about how to run the firm. Bower wanted to expand nationally and hire young business school graduates, whereas Kearney wanted to stay in Chicago and hire experienced accountants. Additionally, in 1937 James O. McKinsey died after catching pneumonia.

New (30 words):

McKinsey merged with accounting firm Scovell, Wellington that year, leading to conflicting interests over location, focus between accounting and consulting, expansion plans, and hiring strategy. Also, in 1937 McKinsey died.

8. Old (95 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gila_monster

The Gila monster eats small birds, mammals, frogs, smaller lizards, insects, and carrion. The Gila monster feeds primarily on bird and reptile eggs, and eats infrequently (only five to ten times a year in the wild), but when it does feed, it may eat up to one-third of its body mass. It uses its extremely acute sense of smell to locate prey, especially eggs. Its sense of smell is so keen, it can locate and dig up chicken eggs buried 15 cm (6 in) deep and accurately follow a trail made by rolling an egg.

New (31 words):

Gila monsters eat small animals, carrion, and eggs—eating five to ten times annually, up to one-third their masses. Their acute smell can sense food underground or trails left when moved.

9. Old (57 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plogging

Plogging is a combination of jogging with picking up litter (Swedish: plocka upp). It started as an organised activity in Sweden around 2016 and spread to other countries in 2018, following increased concern about plastic pollution. As a workout, it provides variation in body movements by adding bending, squatting and stretching to the main action of running.

New (19 words):

Plogging combines jogging with picking up litter (Swedish: plocka upp) for full-body exercise, started in 2016 Sweden, spreading worldwide.

10. Old (97 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doom_II

Rather than the player playing through three related episodes as in the first Doom, gameplay takes place over one giant episode, albeit with interludes for when the story develops. Instead of watching the player’s progress on a map (as in the original episodes of Doom), the screens between each level simply show a background (a style carried over to the bonus fourth episode of Doom available in The Ultimate Doom, the retail re-release of the original Doom). This also means the player is never forced to lose all of his or her inventory after completing an episode.

New (25 words):

Unlike Doom, Doom II occurs in one episode, with interludes, without a map, a style continued in sequels. Players no longer lose inventory between levels.

11. Old (48 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All-time_Los_Angeles_Sol_roster

This list comprises all players who have been placed on a regular-season roster for Los Angeles Sol since the team’s first Women’s Professional Soccer season in 2009. This list does not include pre-season training rosters, short term players, or discovery players who do not appear for the club.

New (16 words):

Below lists Los Angeles Sol players since its 2009 debut, but not preseason or short-term players.

12. Old (41 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poonjar

Poonjar is a small town in the Kottayam district of Kerala state, India. Before the independence of India, Poonjar had been the capital of the Poonjar Koyikkal Swaroopam. Pala, Teekoy, Kanjirappally, and Erattupetta are the nearest towns and villages of Poonjar.

New (13 words):

Poonjar is a town in Kottayam district, Kerala, India, once a royal capital.

12. Old (95 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_rotation

Growing the same crop in the same place for many years in a row (Monocropping) disproportionately depletes the soil of certain nutrients. With rotation, a crop that leaches the soil of one kind of nutrient is followed during the next growing season by a dissimilar crop that returns that nutrient to the soil or draws a different ratio of nutrients. In addition, crop rotation mitigates the buildup of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one species is continuously cropped, and can also improve soil structure and fertility by increasing biomass from varied root structures.

New (28 words):

Growing similar crops in one field depletes soil nutrients, attracts pests, and induces disease. Rotating crops with complementary nutrient, pest, and disease profiles increases plant fertility and output.

14. Old (111 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_(meal_replacement)

Its producer, Rosa Foods, says that Soylent meets all nutritional requirements for an average adult. Initial recipes were first created and tested by software engineer Rob Rhinehart as a self-experiment in nutrition. Subsequently, the powdered version of Soylent was developed into the first product line of Rosa Foods, which currently markets and sells the product. For about two months in late 2016, the company also marketed a solid-form meal bar under the brand name as well, but it was discontinued after reports that it caused gastrointestinal problems for some consumers. Sales of the powdered version were also halted briefly in late 2016 before the product was reformulated and its sales resumed.

New (37 words):

A software engineer created it as an experiment. Its producer, Rosa Foods, introduced it in powdered form, later reformulated, and claims it is nutritional for average adults. Rosa withdrew a bar form on reports of gastrointestinal problems.

15. Old (72 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosper_Mugiraneza

Prosper Mugiraneza is a former minister of civil service in Rwanda. Mugiraneza was born in 1957 in Kigarama, Kibungo Province, Rwanda. He is a graduate of the National University of Rwanda in Butare, where he earned a law degree. Before becoming minister of civil service, Mugiraneza was a prosecutor and director general of the Ministry of Justice. He is married and has four children. His wife and children currently reside in Europe.

New (24 words):

Prosper Mugiraneza (b. 1957, Kigarama) was Rwandan civil service minister. He studied law at Rwanda’s National University and worked at the Ministry of Justice.

16. Old (120 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Berry_Lowrie

Henry Berry Lowry (c. 1845 – Unknown) led a resistance in North Carolina during and after the American Civil War. He is sometimes viewed as a Robin Hood type figure and a pioneer in the fight for civil rights. Many local North Carolinians remember him as a Robin Hood figure, particularly the Tuscarora and Lumbee people, who consider him one of their tribe and a pioneer in the fight for their civil rights, personal freedom, and tribal self-determination. Lowrie was described by George Alfred Townsend, a correspondent for the New York Herald in the late 19th century, as “[o]ne of those remarkable executive spirits that arises now and then in a raw community without advantages other than those given by nature.”

New (36 words):

Henry Berry Lowry (c. 1845 – Unknown) fought for rights of native Americans in North Carolina after the American Civil War, regarded as a Robin Hood figure by contemporary journalists, North Carolinians, and some native American tribes.

17. Old (38 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kikuyu_people

The Kikuyu (also Agĩkuyu/Gikuyu) is the largest ethnic group in Kenya. They speak the Bantu Kikuyu language. At a population of 6.6 million as of 2009, they account for close to 17% of the total population of Kenya.

New (12 words):

The Kikuyu (also Agĩkuyu/Gikuyu) is Kenya’s largest ethnicity, at 6.6 million (17%).

18. Old (99 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_(1982_film)

The film found an audience when released on home video and television. In the years since, it has been reappraised as one of the best science fiction or horror films ever made, and has gained a cult following. Filmmakers have noted its influence on their work, and it has been referred to in other media such as television and video games. The Thing has spawned a variety of merchandise, including a 1982 novelization, haunted houses, board games, and sequels in comic books, a video game of the same name, and a 2011 prequel film also of the same name.

New (33 words):

Home viewers newly supported the film, now a cult classic with merchandise including books, comic books, and games. Critics rank it among the best science fiction and horror films. Filmmakers credit its influence.

19. Old (112 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica

The Latin word basilica (derived from Greek βασιλική στοά, Royal Stoa, the tribunal chamber of a king), has three distinct applications in modern English. Originally, the word was used to describe an ancient Roman public building, where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. It usually had the door at one end and a slightly raised platform and an apse at the other, where the magistrate or other officials were seated. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town, usually adjacent to the main forum. Subsequently, the basilica was not built near a forum but adjacent to a palace and was known as a “palace basilica”.

New (37 words):

Basilica (Latin: from Greek βασιλική στοά, Royal Stoa, the king’s tribunal chamber) originally meant an ancient Roman public function building, central to every town, with a door at one end opposite a raised platform and apse.

20. Old (69 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineered_bamboo

Engineered bamboo has been used as paneling, vehicle beds, concrete formworks, lightweight building construction and even for shelters after the 2004 tsunami. In comparison to the woods that have been traditionally used, a number of benefits and drawbacks have been identified. Lower cost, especially when replacing wood that would otherwise have been imported, is a key advantage. Further benefits include greater hardness and shape retention, especially in high temperatures.

New (22 words):

Engineered bamboo serves as a light construction material, often harder, costing less, and keeping its shape in higher temperatures than many woods.

21. Old (109 words): from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernandina_Beach,_Florida

Fernandina Beach is a city in Nassau County, Florida, United States, on Amelia Island. It is the northernmost city on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and is one of the principal municipalities comprising Greater Jacksonville. The area was first inhabited by the Timucuan Indian tribe. Located on Amelia Island, known as the “Isle of 8 Flags”, Fernandina has had the flags of the following nations flown over it since 1562: France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Republic of Florida, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States. It is the only municipality in the United States that has flown eight different national flags.

New (35 words):

Fernandina Beach is a city on Amelia Island, Florida, part of Greater Jacksonville. Timucuan Indians first lived there. France, Spain, Britain, and five other nations have governed it, earning the name “Isle of 8 Flags.”


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