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Home of the People Who Live Here

On Tuesday I enjoyed the cartoon Bliss, by well-known artist and cartoonist Harry Bliss. His cartoon panel is syndicated by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

The panel showed a welcome sign over a highway. The sign read:


I chuckled at that welcome. It stated the obvious and raised the question “Isn’t Rochester famous for anything else?”

The cartoon reminded me of a dreadful sentence a friend forwarded to me recently as a bad example. I’ve changed the details to protect the guilty, but the sentence read like this:

The Smithers proposal proposed an overall effort by Smithers to accomplish the upgrade with 8,000 hours and $2 million.

Yikes! How many ways can we state the obvious?

  1. The proposal proposed
  2. Smithers proposed work by Smithers
  3. An overall effort (in contrast to a specific effort?)
  4. An effort to accomplish (in contrast to an effort to do nothing?)

The sentence raises the question “If people at Smithers write this badly, how well will they manage the project?” If I were going to spend $2 million on an upgrade, I would insist that it be described more efficiently.

Here is a revision:

Smithers proposed a complete upgrade requiring 8000 hours at a cost of $2 million.

When I reread my friend’s email sharing the dreadful sentence, I realized that it wasn’t Smithers who had written the bad sentence–it was a project manager unrelated to Smithers. Smithers’ proposal may have been beautifully written, but someone was writing about it very inefficiently.

Moral: “Home of the people who live here”–in a cartoon it’s funny. But stating and restating the obvious–in business writing it’s mind numbing.


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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.