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Another Sign for You to Proofread

My friend Eric W. sent me a sign that needs your proofreading eye. What would you change?



Please share your recommendations in a comment.

If your company or organization has a sign-making department, suggest that one of its team members take my online course Proofread Like a Pro.



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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.

12 comments on “Another Sign for You to Proofread”

  • First, “smoke free” should be “smoke-free”. I would also move “This is a smoke-free building”, etc., up to the top of the sign, and put the fine for violation line immediately below those three lines.
    Then I would include the map, the arrow, the words in red, and rest of the information below the “Any violations” line. I would increase the font of that line. I would also delete the last “any violations” line because it’s redundant.

  • smoke free needs a hyphen. $500 fine shouldn’t be repeated. Periods needed. “Per eventP should be ‘per instance.” Permitted is misspelled. Seems a bit illogical to say a smoke-free building has a smoking area.

  • Hi Lynn, I would hyphen “smoke-free”, update “permitted” without the typo, and I would label the map to include the building name, the surrounding areas, and where people may smoke. Right now, it’s unclear as to where those smoking areas are located. I would update one more item to read “Smoking is only permitted in the designated area outside the building, indicated by the red arrow above.” As of right now, my eyes naturally wander down as I’m reading the sign, looking for the red arrow.

  • Seems like scrambled messaging. The sign maker needs to the emphasize key points instead of repeating random points such as fines per event (what does that mean even?). A huge red arrow and all capital letters are hard to read and are distracting on top of the typos others have commented on. In my opinion, the sign maker should consider bullet points of: No smoking inside the building. Smoking permitted outside in NW corner in designated area only. All cigarette debris must be placed in marked receptacles. $500 fines for violations of these policies.

  • One of society’s great achievements of the past 30 years (at least in North America, western Europe and some other countries) has been to make such signs unnecessary. Most people no longer even think of smoking inside a building. You smoke outside. If necessary, depending on the uses of the building, a few no-smoking pictograms can serve as reminders.

  • Way too much to read and digest. Main idea first: NON-SMOKING BUILDING then
    DISPOSE OF… then
    although do they really have the capacity to issue a fine? What are the consequences of not paying?
    Lastly, train employees and sign-maker to use spell check.

  • Agree with most comments above, however; the most egregious error is omitted: the building is not smoke-free; it is smoking-restricted. Any building in which smoking is permitted – or permited – anywhere cannot be smoke-free. At some point, it will contain smoke – ergo, it will not be smoke-free. Take it from one who is violently ill at one whiff of this carcinogen – and at this all-too-common error. And it is hardly a societal achievement to move the noxious fumes outside where the polluters can indiscriminately poison anyone who happens to be walking by. Signs unnecessary? Try telling that to a smoker.

  • Everyone, thanks for these rich comments. I appreciated hearing from you.

    Rachel, I have to confess not completely understanding your comment, but I enjoyed “Don’t smite the smoker.”

    Sierra, all excellent suggestions. Good thinking!

    David, thank you for the referral to that terrific article. I especially liked the revision at the end. It’s a perfect example.

    Jane, good suggestions. I’m delighted that you caught the misplaced “only.”

    Maggie, illogical indeed! Thanks for commenting.

    Kelly, I like your idea of labels. It made me think a “You are here” reference would also be helpful. Often when I am in a new place I need to know where I am on the map. One can’t always recognize NSEW directions.

    Heidi, thanks for mention the CAPSLOCK issue, which makes the sign even harder to read. I like your idea of well-chosen bullet points.

    George, I like the pictogram idea. On my most recent trip to Europe, in 2016, I was surprised at the number of people who smoked at nearby tables in outdoor restaurants. Even outdoors, I occasionally got a face full of smoke. But that’s a whole two years ago. I need to get back and see whether things have changed.

    Bart, very concise! From the picture of my state (Washington) in the lower right corner, I’m guessing the organization does have the authority to issue a fine. And spellcheck–what a concept, right?

    Abigail, thanks for adding your important points to the discussion.

    Kim, thanks for stopping by with your comment. I always enjoy hearing from you.


  • All the errors I found have already been mentioned. What a mess of a sign! Whoever created it should be very embarrassed.

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