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A Costly Error

People often visit this site looking for evidence of the cost of writing errors. Here is a story to add to your files.

According to The Janesville Gazette, the Florida career management firm Allen and Associates is being sued because of a letter that should not have been sent, with a mistake that should have been caught.

According to the Wisconsin newspaper, its former managing editor Barbara Uebelacker had contracted with Allen and Associates to help with her job-search campaign. Her lawsuit alleges that the firm mailed a letter to 200 employers without notifying Ms. Uebelacker, and the letter included a serious error. It seems that it included an unfortunate statement like this:

Currently seeking new challenges in a 70E.R1B,EWI.5381 position with your organization.

Rather than a 70E.R1B,EWI.5381 position, Ms. Uebelacker was actually seeking a public relations position.

Allen and Associates has apologized for the error and returned Ms. Uebelacker’s $1,720 fee, according to The Janesville Gazette. Nevertheless, she seeks damages “in excess of $75,000 for humiliation, mental anguish, emotional pain and loss of professional reputation,” according to the newspaper.

Yes, errors do lead to lawsuits. That is why we get everyone’s permission to publish, and we proofread and test messages many times, especially when a document is going to 200 readers.

Beyond the story in The Janesville Gazette, I know nothing about Ms. Uebelacker and her lawsuit, but I do wish her a happy, productive job search. Looking for a job can be a stressful, demoralizing activity. But if public relations (PR) is what she loves to do, her situation sounds like an excellent PR project. I can imagine a wonderful story about this silly, embarrassing error and how she used her PR skills to turn the situation around. I hope she will be able to look back and smile about it when she is happily settled in a new job.

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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.