Every time I drive through a road construction area, I see an orange sign that reads, “MAINTAIN PRESENT LANE.” This sign drives me batty.
I realize that it was probably written by some underpaid worker, on a busy day, sitting in the office of some mad bureaucracy somewhere. But it’s a good example of the “officialese disease” that prevents otherwise simple ideas from being communicated clearly.
Why doesn’t the sign just read, “STAY IN YOUR LANE” or “DO NOT CHANGE LANES”? Isn’t that more clear? Why the need for the big official sounding words?
I’m tempted to carry cans of spray paint in my car and, when I see one of these signs, pull over and spray it with one of my better written alternatives. Of course, I can’t do that. I must “maintain present lane.”
I’m not just talking about road signs here. Clarity is the single most important rule for any kind of writing, especially “action” writing where you’re trying to get someone to do something, which includes direct response copy for letters or advertisements. If people don’t understand you instantly, you’ll lose their attention and their money.
This ridiculous road sign is a lesson in how NOT to write clearly. Look over your own writing and whenever you see multisyllabic or pompous words and phrases strutting in, replace them with shorter, simpler words that everyone will understand at a glance. Okay?