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Whose Purview Is It?

This week in a Better Business Writing class, an attendee named Linda used the word purview in her writing project. Her context was similar to this:

If purchasing is part of your purview, please note these changes.

One of the other attendees asked, “What’s a purview?” A few other people, nearly all of whom have been speaking American English all their lives, admitted that they too were not certain of the meaning of purview.

I myself knew the meaning of the word, and I know I have used it in spoken English, but I thought it was spelled purvue.

Linda was surprised that we were not more familiar with the word, but she was very willing to change it. She settled on the phrase “area of responsibility” as a more familiar substitution:

If purchasing is part of your area of responsibility, please note these changes.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines purview this way:

the range or limit of authority, competence, responsibility, concern, or intention

Although Merriam-Webster includes other definitions of purview, that one most closely matches Linda’s intended meaning.

In class, Linda got instant feedback from us as her readers. In our writing on the job, that is not the case. We write, thinking our meaning is clear, yet our reader may be asking, “What is a purview?”

How can we avoid using the wrong word for our readers? Here are several suggestions:

  1. Recognize that readers skim. Choose the simplest appropriate words to help them skim quickly.
  2. Imagine a reader on the other side of the world. If Linda were writing for someone who reads English as a foreign language, purview would probably require a visit to a bilingual dictionary. Even we English speakers in Federal Way, Washington, were puzzled by the word.
  3. Ask a coworker to review your writing and to comment on any aspect of it that is not easy to understand immediately.
  4. Replace any word you have doubts about. If you are not sure that your reader knows cognizant, pussyfoot, intrinsic, drive-by, corpus, upmanship, canny, time-out, or gorp, use another word, or define your terms. (For definitions of any of the previous words, do a OneLook Dictionary Search.)

Your purview as a writer is to choose the appropriate words for your readers. Otherwise, they may be staring at the page or screen wondering, “What is a purview?” rather than focusing on your message.


Other search spellings: defintion, defintiton, definiton, defenition, EFL

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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.

5 comments on “Whose Purview Is It?”

  • Just like this article says. Readers skim and when i saw the word “purveu” i said what!? But luckily i found this article to understand the meaning.

  • I, too, have always seen this word spelled as “purvue.” Although I know the meaning, I was going to use this in an e-mail and had a moments hesitation on the spelling. Imagine my surprise to discover that not only is purvue not found in Merriam-Webster, but that there are articles such as this one on the usage of this word. Interesting comments, and great busnisse writing advice.

  • iwante to use purveiw in the following sentence. is thiscorrect to say, i amd sending this for your purview

  • Ahmad, the correct word depends on your meaning. I believe you want to write this:

    I am sending this for your review.

    As I have stated it, it means you want the person to read (review) whatever you are sending.


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