Not Incorrect. Just Untidy.

An AFCD poster in the MTR compartment

Since I’m teaching marketing & PR writing, I must be hypersensitive to promotional materials anywhere I go.

Government bodies and public institutions often pursue accurate language use to maintain their serious, official image. I of course will not say their language use is ungrammatical or inaccurate, but truth be told: their copywriters do need be more sensitive to writing “style”.

Just like the poster I put up here, the structure is so loose that it’s painful to read — I’m only focusing on the English translation. For clarity I’m typing them up for you:

Don’t Feed Feral Pigeons

Overcrowding increases the risk of disease transmission
Loss of foraging instinct
Overweight or nutritional imbalance
Put them in danger

The list of negative consequences is so untidy. Item 1 is a full sentence; Item 2 and 3 noun phrases, and Item 4 an incomplete sentence.

Even we are not stylistically trained do we know what the parallel structure is from our literacy training at school, especially when writing in the format of a list such as recipes (you put a verb at the beginning of each point), objectives (gerunds or to-infinitives), instructions, protocols, and so on.

It’s not just for tidiness; it’s also a matter of consistency — consistency in the message you are sending to ensure information comes in “waves” for easier “digestion”. Again, it’s not incorrect, but just untidy.

I give it a go herein, and rewrite this, just to alleviate my pain a bit:

  • Higher risk of disease transmission due to overcrowding
  • Loss of foraging instinct
  • Health problems such as overweight or nutritional imbalance
  • Increasing danger to pigeons

All the bulleted points are now noun phrases with head nouns being shell nouns (risk, loss, problem, danger) that possess negative values, which highlight the negative consequences arising from “feeding feral pigeons”.

In the curriculum that pursues accuracy, we indeed need more emphases on choice. Choice reflects our literacy mastery, influences expression styles, and more importantly, opens up our perspective on language learning.

If you’re to revise it, how are you going about it? Let me know!


  1. Hey Erik, interesting post, but I might actually summarize the poster in another way! I would keep the sentences short and clean. Here goes my attempt:

    Increased disease transmission
    Loss of foraging instinct (kept the same)
    Weight gain or nutritional imbalance
    Increased danger

    Hopefully they take us into account.

    Liked by 1 person

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