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Stealing Is Stealing

I have been asked twice recently about the email etiquette of editing someone else’s message, then sending it out as one’s own.

The question is the same to me whether the medium is a memo, a letter, a report, an email message, or any kind of writing. Sometimes writers produce documents for other people, who present the work as their own. Sometimes writers contribute to a team, and the team’s written output is not linked to any particular individuals. In both those situations, the writers do not get recognition for their writing, and they don’t expect to.

But stealing is stealing. When a writer sends a message to a coworker, who then sends that message out–edited or not–as his or her own, without prior agreement, that is stealing another’s work.

Such is my view. What do you think?

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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.

One comment on “Stealing Is Stealing”

  • Amen to honest attribution! In a former life I worked for a manager who was well-known for passing around our reports as her own work. Morale was in the toilet anyway, and this certainly didn’t help!

    Being more computer savvy than she, I devised a way of putting my own name, date of last document edit and filepath into 8 pt. type in a footer that automatically went into all my new documents.

    She didn’t know how to remove that footer, and had I been confronted about it, I could make a good case for the value of everyone knowing the date of the current document and where to find it in the system.

    I didn’t stay in the job very long.

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