Ambiguity Is Your Enemy

“Push Emergency Stop Button Located In Middle Of Store”

The sign above has a problem. You might need to have seen the gas station where I took the photo, but the error is that the emergency stop button isn’t in the middle of the store. It’s outside, mounted near the center of the front of the building.

When you’re writing directions for others to follow you have to make them clear, concise, and unambiguous. It often helps to have others proofread them to make sure the outcome will be exactly what you want every time. If the outcome isn’t the same they need to be revised.

This is especially important for emergency instructions. If the reader is going to have five seconds to read and comprehend your directions will they understand and do the right thing? Put another way, if flaming gasoline is pouring everywhere and the customer reads this sign will they run inside the store or to the front of the building? It’ll be the difference between a car on fire and the whole gas station on fire. And while the car on fire might be a lost cause, with clear directions the larger problem, the burning building, might be avoided.

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