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Out-of-Office Replies: Things to Avoid

This past weekend I sent out my monthly e-newsletter to about 2700 people. For me, it is always instructive to read people’s out-of-office automatic replies in email. They often provide useful examples of what to avoid. Here are four such examples, with identifying information removed:

1. From a subscriber in Germany, I received this notice:

I will be out of the office starting 10/05/2007 and will not return until 21/05/2007.

Tip: Avoid using all-number dates. In Europe and many other places in the world, 10/05/2007 means May 10, 2007. But in the U.S., the same numbers signify October 5, 2007. Using the all-number style can cause your reader to stumble, if just for a moment.

2. From an ezine subscriber in an accounting firm in the U.S., I received this disclaimer:

Pursuant to Circular 230, promulgated by the Internal Revenue Service, if this letter, or any attachment hereto, contains advice concerning any tax issue or submission, please be advised that it is not intended or written to be used, and that it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding federal tax penalties unless otherwise expressly indicated.

Tip: Avoid long disclaimers that bear no relation to your message, especially ones that are neither clear nor concise. They do not convey a crisp professional image.

3. From another subscriber in the U.S., I received this information:

Contact Melissa Smith for real estate questions. She will also be OOO 5/12-5/18. Contact Brad Wilson for accounting questions. Brad will be OOO 5/9-5/15.

I used to wonder about the people who were described in all zeros. But now I understand that OOO means “out of office.”

Tip: Avoid abbreviations that make people stop to wonder.

4. I received this auto-reply when I sent out last month’s ezine:

I will be out of the office Christmas Day and the day after, returning December 27.

Interestingly, I received that message in mid-April.

Tip: Update your out-of-office auto-reply, or set it to expire on a certain date.

If you like these examples and tips, please share your own by commenting here.


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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.

7 comments on “Out-of-Office Replies: Things to Avoid”

  • One more point I’d like to add is that do not mention confidential information in you auto reply.

    E.g. For all Project XYZ development issues, please contact
    Chris White.

  • My company uses OOF internally instead of OOO, but we are told how few people understand this outside our company. An OOO message sent to all incoming mail lets people know that your house is possibly empty (I will be in FL on vacation 19-25 June – please come rob me). Having an OOF sent to all incoming mail will also verify to SPAM senders that your address is valid and possibly giving another address for the spammer to use (I will be OOO all June, July and most of August – please contact Dick at for all issues)

  • Thanks for that excellent cautionary reminder.

    When I say our office is closed, I should add that we hire a housesitter to stay with our dog, who bites.

  • Shang, thanks for your comment. It is amazing the information people include in out-of-office messages.

  • Anyone know how to change the date format in Lotus Notes? Seems impossible to format to include text. (Dec-28-2010)


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