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A Parking Story With a Lesson for Writers

Yesterday was a national holiday in the United States, Memorial Day, and our family decided to visit the Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture park. We drove the three miles or so from our house, and then I eased over to the curb lane to read the parking signs. No one else had parked in the lane.

My daughter helpfully advised me, "Mom! You can’t park here! No one else is parked here!"

I responded, "But I know I have parked here in the past," and tried to read the signs.

She said, "No! People are slowing up behind you." This was true. The curb lane was also a driving lane.

My husband said, "The sign says ‘No parking 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Saturday, Sunday, and holidays.’"

I put the car in park. The car behind me did too.

My daughter insisted, "No, Mom! There’s no parking! And the other sign says ‘No parking south of here’!"

I pointed out that since today was a holiday and we were north of the other sign, we would be okay. I got out of the car, my daughter still arguing her point. She almost refused to get out of the car because of her belief that our car was illegally parked.

Then the three of us stood and read the two parking signs carefully. After some discussion, we agreed that we were parked in a legal parking space.

Later, from a high point in the sculpture park, we could see our parked car. There were now about 20 cars parked behind it, filling the previously empty lane. We all had a good laugh.

Here is how this parking story relates to business writing:

Coworkers often disagree about the rules of writing. One will be certain the comma is unnecessary; the other will be committed to using the comma. They will argue and fret.

It is pointless to just argue. Writers should stop quibbling with coworkers and get an up-to-date reference book. (See my list of Recommended Books.) When my family read the parking signs closely, we realized–one of us reluctantly–that we were parked correctly. End of discussion.

When you are certain of the rules, follow them, even if no one else is doing so. Yes, you are correct that the period goes inside the closing quotation mark in the United States, so put it inside. Yes, you are right in thinking that June 15 is correct, so do not type June 15th. Yes, it is correct to use Esq. (for Esquire) without a title before the person’s name, as in Gregg M. Wilson, Esq., so leave that Mr. off! Once you follow the rules confidently, others will join you.

In Seattle, Washington, parking signs are the ultimate authority on legal parking. As long as you see them and read them carefully, you will never go wrong. The same is true in writing. Choose a published authority in the form of a current style manual, and follow it. You can stop worrying about whether you are right or wrong and have more time to enjoy other things, like sculpture.

Lynn

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

2 comments on “A Parking Story With a Lesson for Writers”

  • Very nice story. I wish I could write better in the future. Can you recommend me any good book and or tip to improve my business writing?
    I am from another country living and working in United States and some times I just do not park my car because I do not understand the signs or maybe because nobody park there.
    I mean the same thing happens when I write. Some times I am not sure if I have to use a comma or not.

  • Carlos, thanks for your comment. If you are serious about writing better in English, there are a million things you can do.
    1. Read all the posts on this blog.
    2. Visit all the sites I have listed on the left, read some of them, and do exercises on others.
    3. Sign up for my newsletter if you have not already done so (link at upper left).
    4. Go to a bookstore and find business writing books that appeal to you. Read them and complete the exercises.
    5. Write and get feedback on your work.

    When you are done with those 5, I will tell you the other 999,995!

    Lynn

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