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Chris G. asserted that many of those dumb warnings
were meaningful & necessary. His objections bring to light an important
point: writing good warnings is a subtle art. At the extreme of
brevity, you get dumb warning syndrome, and at the extreme of
completeness, you lose the urgency and clarity of the message.
The urgency, the immediacy of a good imperative, is not incompatible
with the kind of completeness that keeps a warning from hanging out
in space like some badly translated stereo instruction.
Does anyone have guidelines they use to ensure that their warnings
(or cautions, as appropriate) have the right mix of punch and
I start mine with an imperative that says do or don't do something.
I include all qualifying conditions in the statement so that it can
be taken out of context and still be true. Ex: "Do not start the car
if it is in gear and if the clutch is not depressed." Then comes
optional but edifying info, particularly, ramifications:
"Doing so may cause the vehicle to move unexpectedly, possibly causing
death, injury, or damage to property." Then the imperative remedy:
"Before starting the vehicle, ensure that the parking brake is on and
either that the transmission is in neutral or that the clutch is
Obviously, I err on the side of wordiness....
> Writes Kat N.:
> My favorite dumb warning is actually not so dumb. It's on the
> collapsible foil reflector that I use to keep the summer sun from
> melting all the interior plastic on my car's dashboard. The label
> says "Not for use while driving." Hey, I know people who need the
My favorite is the one on a box of Q-tips: "Do not insert into ear."
They know d*mn well we're sticking them in our ears and that if we
didn't buy them for that purpose, they would have gone out of biz
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