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How to Refer Readers to a Map

I got an email yesterday from the organizers of a literary festival I’m going to attend. It shared reminders about parking and registration. I knew where to park, but I needed to know where registration was. So I went directly to this paragraph:

Attendees are required to check in at the main lobby of the Engineering building (see map). You will receive a wristband . . . .

I looked at the map to find the Engineering building. Can you find it?

Keep looking until you figure out where the Engineering building is, and then scroll down to my comments.


Did you identify the Engineering building? Silly me–I could not find it. So I wrote a quick email to the organizers and asked which building was Engineering.

Here is the helpful reply I received:

Hello Lynn,

The Engineering building is located on the lower mall near the 12th & E Columbia entrance across from the law school. Please also see the map in the email. Engineering is marked as “Registration.”

Please let me know if you have any other questions. Thank you!

So it was impossible to find Engineering by looking for it. I should have been looking for “Registration,” which is clearly flagged twice.

How would you rewrite the sentence of instruction so that someone who is reading quickly and does not know the campus would find the correct building on the map? Please share your revision in the comments.


Addendum on February 24

Once I got there, it was easy to find the place to register:

Engineering building


Posted by Avatar photo
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.

9 comments on “How to Refer Readers to a Map”

  • People writing directions need to put themselves in the shoes of first-time visitors. In this case, the text is fine (though a little cold) but the Engineering building needs a label on the map.

    But this may not fully solve the problem. The email hints that Sullivan is the law school. So maybe the Engineering building has another name, too.

  • George and Carlos, thanks for your ideas. I will wait to see whether more people respond before I comment.


  • Hi Lynn,
    I love the visuals used for the directions but…

    Attendees are required to check in at the main lobby of the Engineering building marked on this map with the black registration flag. For your convenience, please use the garages marked with the red flags (see map).

    I would just look for the flags if mentioned in the email. Thank you, Lynn, for your writing your blog!

  • Hi Lynn,

    I would recommend something that mentions the name of the building and the label on the map.

    Check in is at the main lobby of the Engineering Building (marked “Registration” on map).

    I really appreciate your blog, and I’ve wanted to comment multiple times. I finally did this time for the simple, silly fact that I recognized the map. This college is on my daughter’s short list, so we’ve visited twice. I’m so glad that Admissions provided a bit better instructions.

    I’m not sure if you’ve been to this school before, but I would recommend giving yourself plenty of time to find buildings; they are not as well marked as I would expect.

  • Thanks for sharing your views, George, Carlos, and Michelle. You can see from the new photo above that the registration site is hard to miss in person–no name of the building needed.

    George, I agree that the engineering building needs to be on the map as the instructions stand now, and you are correct that the building has a name, just as the law school does. I found that out today.

    Carlos, like you, I am a fan of the map. I believe it would be effective to simply refer readers to the building marked Registration, leaving out that it happens to be the engineering building.

    Michelle, I like your suggestion “Check-in is at the main lobby of the Engineering Building (marked “Registration” on map).” Having been at the university today, I noticed that the building has a much longer name than “Engineering Building,” so we shouldn’t capitalize those words. On another subject, it’s great that your daughter is considering this school as long as it fits your budget. I believe it’s a wonderful educational community, with many opportunities for classroom and life learning.


  • As a mapper by profession, I would clearly label the engineering building on the map and may even highlight the outline of the building to draw attention to it. After all, the purpose of the map is for people to find the engineering building.

  • It wouldn’t have bothered me, but maybe my brain works differently, I don’t know.

    Yes, the text reads “look for Engineering Building”, but when I first looked at the map I immediately saw “Registration” written twice and quite clearly. So I had no doubt that that must be the building where to go for registration. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    Still, I understand your point and I surely would have given better directions!

  • Hi Deborah,

    You are right. I’m one of those literal readers who sees the words “Engineering Building” and goes in search of one.


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