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When Life Depends on Clear Instructions (08 Oct 2005)
Shorter, clearer writing is much harder to achieve than verbosity. Take for example three pages accessible on the Internet are titled, "Emergency Instructions". They explain what to do if you hear the Civil Defense Warning Sirens and/or the Emergency Alert System. The 3 pages of instructions could have been boiled down to one sentence: "If you hear an air raid siren, seek shelter and turn on a radio or television for instructions."

However, there is an exception to every rule. There is one instruction writer we should thank. His unclear writing inadvertently saved lives. When police found the undetonated bomb that proved the Al Qaida connection in the recent Madrid terrorist attack, they discovered that it didn't go off because the bomber programmed his cell phone alarm as the trigger for 7 pm rather than 7 am. For once, unclear instructions saved lives.
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