One of the most colorful people I've ever known was Al McGuire, coach of Marquette University's men's basketball team, which won the 1977 national championship. He used to say that when his team's normally disciplined offense spun out of control, the action resembled "scrambled eggs."
The same thing happens when writing spins out of control.
Take the passage below, about President Donald Trump's commutation of Roger Stone's sentence; Stone was convicted of lying to Mueller investigators about his involvement with the Russian effort to derail Hillary Clinton's campaign.
From the New York Times: "Mr. Trump repeatedly praised Mr. Stone and others for refusing to aid the investigation. In a December 2018 tweet, he singled out Mr. Stone for resisting 'a rogue and out of control prosecutor,' adding, 'Nice to know that some people still have guts!'"
" 'It is possible that by the time the president submitted his written answers two years after the relevant events had occurred, he no longer had clear recollections of his discussions with Stone or his knowledge of Stone's asserted communications with WikiLeaks,' the Mueller prosecutors wrote in a passage disclosed last month as a result of a lawsuit."
Did you have any idea who was being quoted in the paragraph that starts: "It is possible that by the time the president submitted his written answers …"?
A reader has to slog through 41 words to arrive at the source of the quote — the Mueller Report. Clear writing would avoid dragging readers through that mess. Clear writing takes exacting work.
The solution: When you have back-to-back quotes from different sources, the second quote screams for attribution where it starts. Try this:
"Nice to know that some people still have guts!"
Prosecutors in the Mueller investigation, responding to a lawsuit filed on the president's behalf, recently disclosed this passage: "It is possible that by the time the president submitted his written answers …"
The revised text unscrambles the eggs; it keeps us reading, without forcing us to excavate.
Twin Cities writing coach Gary Gilson, who taught journalism at Colorado College, can be reached at www.writebetterwithgary.com.