Write clearly, darnit!

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?

Subscribe to FREE Newsletter / Subscribe to blog by RSS or E-mail


2 Responses to “Write clearly, darnit!”

  1. Peter on November 2nd, 2007 10:24 am

    How about “utilize” as in: “In order to implement the strategy and accomplish our strategic goal we will utliize the new blogging technologies to further improve the effectiveness of our audience interactions.” When did the word “use” disappear from the dictionay? “We are going to use a blog to expand our audience.”

  2. Dean Rieck on November 2nd, 2007 11:35 am

    Yeah, I hate that one, too. It’s yet another symptom of the “officialese disease.” People think that sort of thing adds weight to their writing, when really it just clouds the meaning.

FREE Newsletter
Get my monthly newsletter and a FREE 16-page Report: 99 Easy Ways to Boost Your Direct Mail Response!
Enter your main e-mail:
Past issues and more info.
Your privacy is guaranteed.