Posted by: wordsmithsuk | November 27, 2012

Notice these posters?

Everywhere we go, notices tell us all to do things in a certain way or not to do things. ‘Close the door’, ‘wash your hands’ ‘no smoking’, ‘turn off the light’, ‘park between the lines’ are just a few examples of common reminders that we see daily on walls, doors, mirrors and signposts everywhere. My problem is not so much the poor grammar that these notices sometimes display, but the style in which they are written.

My theory is that we Brits don’t actually like telling people to do (or not to do) things. We worry that a straight command might be interpreted as rude or offhand, so we make impersonal or indirect commands which often end up sounding even more offensive.

Campsites are good places to find examples of notices which often succeed only in offending those who read them. On this page you will see a range that I snapped on just one campsite in the UK last Summer. The overall effect is like hearing a sergeant-major shouting at nervous recruits on a parade ground. The problem  is that a notice pitched in such tones is unlikely to have the desired outcome. Indeed, we may be more likely to carry out the offending behaviour anyway – like rebellious children.

For a real flavour of the tone of these notices, check this page with its long list of booking conditions for Parkers Farm campsite.

It’s amazing to think that the person who wrote these  is hoping that people will book places on his or her campsite! This is not exactly the warm and welcoming tone that one might expect.

I long to edit this document in this way:

  • Not: A deposit of £40 is required per week on all touring pitches. Balance due on arrival.
  • Rather: We require a  deposit of £40 per week on all touring pitches. Please pay the balance when you arrive.
  • Not: It is regretted that no cash refunds can be made if visitors depart prior to the end of the booked holiday.
  • Rather: We are sorry but we can’t refund part of your payment if you decide to leave before the end of your holiday.
  • Not: The right is reserved to refuse acceptance or to terminate the visit of any person or persons whose conduct is detrimental to our farm or to our visitors.
  • Rather: We reserve the right to refuse your booking or ask you to leave if you behave in a way that harms our  farm or our visitors.

… and so on!

So the moral of this story is (as ever) to think of the effect on readers of your notice or poster. People are more likely to understand and comply with what you are asking if you  imagine you are talking to readers as people.

Here are some simple guidelines:

  • Ask them to do things rather than tell them
  • Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
  • Give your command first then explain why you are giving it (Not: ‘Hot water is wasted if you leave the taps on. Make sure that that hot taps are turned off when you have finished washing’. Rather: ‘Please turn off the taps when you have finished washing. Leaving them running wastes the hot water’)
  • Adopt a polite, respectful and sincere tone.

Please send me examples of posters or notices that upset you. I’d love to see them!


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