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Snakes in the surrounding area

By Melissa

Some of us having been talking for a while about the benefits of writing so humans can get the meaning first read. And it finally seems to be catching on. Organisations who need people to understand their messages are finally writing in plain English so they can be understood easily.

Recently seen at our local playground was a sign that read: “Snakes have been seen in this and the surrounding area. Please take care.”

We understood the message, but there’s nothing like user testing to prove an idea. And that user was a 12-year-old girl who walked up to us and asked us what ‘surrounding’ meant. We realised that by sticking ‘surrounding’ into the sentence our sign writer had confused our young reader whose comprehension stopped at ‘Snakes have been seen in this and the.’

Suitable rewrite: ‘Snakes have been seen in this area. Look where you walk and watch your children.’

Another bit of accidental user testing took place as we walked home along a creekside trail. Prominent signs warned ‘Trail is subject to flooding.’ My son, unprompted, read it and asked ‘subject? Like a subject at school?’

Meaning lost, safety warning negligible.

Suitable rewrite: 'Trail might flood'

We know why these signs are in place – because all levels of government are keen to deflect responsibility and put off any litigious responses to danger. If they have to be there let’s make sure they work hard and everyone can understand the message