5 writing tips I picked up in my friend’s bathroom

toilet roll

Whether we write lavatory signs, computer instructions or pension statements, we could learn a lot from what I found in my friend’s bathroom.

Last weekend, I went to a friend’s house for dinner (supper if you’re really posh, tea if you’re less so). In the loo, I found a sign. It’s brilliant. The night before, her teenage daughter had invited some friends over for a sleepover. So she wrote this:

toilet bin note


It’s great for loads of reasons. Here are five of them.


1. It uses ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – people really like a bit of manners. Apparently, they maketh man.


2. It immediately tells you who it’s for – ‘girls’. If you’re not a girl, you need read no further. And it does this in a really friendly way – ‘hello’. Only once you know that this message is for you and that they like you, do they tell you that it’s ‘important’.


3. It makes a simple request – ‘please do x’. And it tells girls what they should do, not what they shouldn’t. The usual toilet sign reads ‘do not flush sanitary towels down the toilet’, which is bossy and not helpful. Or, worse still, ‘sanitary towels should not be flushed down the toilet’, which is just as bossy, but even less clear (because it’s a sentence about the sanitary towels rather than the flusher!).


4. Once it’s told you what it would like you to do, it explains why. And it’s a clear and vivid reason – ‘our toilets will stop working’.


5. It uses friendly, informal language – ‘loo’, ‘working’, ‘go down’.

The writer knew her audience, wanted to help them, and trusted her instincts when it came to the words. She didn’t write for a general audience, boss them around, and use words that would make her sound professional.

No plumbing problems were reported all weekend.



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