Last week while driving on the Palisades Parkway in Bergen County, New Jersey, I spotted a perplexing road sign. It said:
There are several ways to interpret the sign.
Does it say that we should end construction? But why should we do so?
Does it mean that we are constructing ends? How? What kind of ends?
Or does it mean that construction has ended? If so, why doesn’t it say “End of Construction”?
Of course, we drivers and passengers realized the sign meant that construction was behind us. Yet the two nouns run together (end and construction) had us guessing momentarily. The insertion of the little preposition of would have made the message instantly clear.
Imagine how readers struggle with five nouns in a row:
Software Package License Application Process
Work Schedule Policy Review Statement
Attendance Incentives Policy Survey Report
Business Writing Program Registration Information
When signs and headings omit little words such as articles and prepositions, readers have to work to insert them in the correct place. They may guess “A Survey Report on the Attendance Incentives Policy” or “A Report on the Attendance Incentives Policy Survey” or something else. They may assume “A Policy Review Statement on the Work Schedule,” when the writer intended “A Work Schedule for the Policy Review Statement.”
When your Microsoft Office grammar and spelling checker comments “Too Many Nouns (consider revising),” pay attention. Consider revising so your readers won’t have to work and still make the wrong assumption.