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Self-Reflective Warnings

In Business writing, Technical communication on May 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about the best practices and ethics of warnings. You see, the problem with most warnings is that they’re informational. That means they don’t connect with the reader and may end up reducing effectiveness by over-exposure. This can be the case even when the wording of the warning is intended to shock the reader into submission, such as the tobacco warnings in the UK:

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In other words, informational warnings may fulfill the requirement of providing a warning but they don’t do so in an effective way. But this doesn’t have to be the case; warnings can be more effective.

According to the article by Sally Monaghan and Alex Blaszczynski (2009), warnings that cause people to reflect on their actions are more effective. An example from the article is the use of the questions “Do you know how long you have been playing? Do you need to take a break?” as a warning to people using a gambling machine. Such a warning encourages people to reflect on their actions/behaviors, which can increase self awareness and lead to a change in action.

You can see both of these types of warnings on the keychain that comes with Craftsman riding lawn mowers. For example, one side of the keychain shows an informative warning:

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The other side, however, shows a more provocative, personal and even graphic self-awareness warning:

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I have to admit that I ignored the informative message, but I was stopped in my tracks by the self-awareness warning. Overall, I’d say this was an effective warning by Craftsman (right down to the placement of the warning, which is on the keychain so it’s prominent each time you start the mower).

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