Skip to content

A Copyediting Challenge for You

Just back from vacation, I have a copyediting challenge for you. It is from a small sign in our pleasant Washington, D.C., hotel room. A sign with this message sat on the windowsill:

Due to the Preponderance of Mosquitoes in the National Capital Area, we ask that you only open the windows in case of an emergency.

Would you make any changes to render the message more clearly, concisely, and correctly? Please share your revision.

Happy July 4!

Syntax Training

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.

21 comments on “A Copyediting Challenge for You”

  • Move “only” so it reads, “open the windows only in case of an emergency.”

    In case of an emergency, you probably want to do more than just open the windows. 😉

  • First I would change the word preponderance to prevalence. Also, neither preponderance or mosquitoes should be capitalized.

    Due to the prevalence of mosquitoes in the National Capital Area, please leave windows closed.

  • To all Republican parties: We are an environmentally green hotel.

    Please keep all windows open while sleeping. To stay cool, please put the large container of water we have provided next to your bed.

    To all democratic parties: Keep all windows closed at all times to keep the mosquito infestation down in your room. Turn on your air-conditioner to a comfortable level.

  • Please be advised a mosquitoes plague is around. We recomend you to keep windows closed.

  • “Due to a large number of mosquitoes in the area, please keep windows closed (except in an emergency).”

    I do like MM.Pfaf’s revision quite a lot though.

  • Due to the number of mosquitos in the Capital area, please keep windows closed unless there’s an emergency. Thank you.

  • (i) “Please keep the windows closed to keep mosquitoes out.”


    (2) “Unless it’s an emergency, please keep the windows closed to keep mosquitoes out.”

  • Thanks, everyone! These are excellent revisions. Although I liked something about each of them, my favorite is Wickie’s:

    “Please keep the windows closed to keep mosquitoes out.”

    Wickie, your version communicates the message clearly and correctly without any unnecessary words. Nice work!

    Inspired by Wickie’s version, I might use this approach:

    “Keep mosquitoes out by keeping the windows closed.”

    Christoph, I enjoyed your “unless you want mosquitoes in your room.” It painted a clear picture for me. I worried, though, that it might give some nutty person the idea of wanting mosquitoes in the room!

    Johanne, excellent brevity.

    Julie, thanks for making the point about “only.” The misplacement of that word is one of my pet peeves.

    Andrea, I liked your clever “Please don’t feed” approach.

    Jet, thanks for mentioning the need to change “preponderance.” Having not used that word in eons, I looked it up yesterday. Surprise! The word “preponderance” means “superiority in weight, force, importance, or influence.” Preponderance of mosquitoes? I hope not.

    MM.Pfaf, naughty you! I enjoyed your misdirections.

    Anabelle, I worry that the “mosquito plague” will have tourists fleeing the area. However, the phrase would certainly stop me from opening a window.

    RJ, your version is quite clear. I would heed it.

    Janice, I appreciate your “Thank you.” It completes the request warmly. I am going to add the phrase to my version too.

    Thanks, everyone, for your creativity and fine writing. I appreciate your input.


  • Better late than never – many of these are excellent rewrites, but no one changed “Due to…” to “Because…” That would have been my first change.

  • Hi Lynn,

    Signs! Writing their copy appears seemingly simple, and yet look at all of the responses and changes that were suggested by your readers.

    Personally, I love that the sign designer opted for a bit of humor by using the word preponderance, even if it was used incorrectly. But remember, with regard to signs, fewer words almost always work better than more. Here’s my version:

    Open windows allow mosquitoes in. Please open your windows only in case of an emergency. Thank you.

  • Hi, Paula. Thanks for stopping by and bringing your expertise as a signmaker.

    I like your version with its clear consequence of open windows. Building on your excellent start, I would cut “case of.”


  • I’m late to the party, but I just found your blog and I want to play!

    “Due to the large number of blood suckers in the Washington, D.C. area, we advise you to keep your windows closed.

    P.S. This will keep the mosquitoes out too.”

Comments are closed.