Negative text and warnings

Subject: Negative text and warnings
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 08:18:03 -0500

Joanne Greene noted <<I attempt to revise sentences so they
are positive statements because the human subconsious
supposedly ignores negatives.>>

It's not so much that we ignore them, which sounds like
self-sabotage... it's just that readers in a hurry (and all
our readers are in a hurry these days) are more likely to
miss the not. As well, stating things positively is shorter
and more direct, and thus communicates more efficiently.

Joanne continued <<However, it is extremely difficult to
recast warnings into concise positive sentences.>>

I agree with you that stating warnings positively is much
more effective, for the reasons already noted. But
difficult? Only if you don't know the tricks, and if you
make the assumption that "do not..." is essential. Most
readers can make the obvious connection if you simply
eliminate the "do not" and state the consequences of an
action. For example "do not use Word's master document
feature unless you enjoy corrupted files" would become
"Word's master document feature will corrupt files".
Personally, that would be all the warning I'd need to stay
away. If you have any specific examples you're having
trouble with, why not send them to the list so we can have
a whack at simplifying them?

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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