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Don’t Do That!

Over lunch today I was reading a booklet about "controlling email" when I came upon a weird set of suggestions for establishing a company email policy. It included these pointers:

  • Expect employees to train themselves. . . .
  • Forget your international associates. . . .
  • Allow employees to dismiss the organization’s ePolicies as insignificant or unenforceable.

These suggestions did not make sense, and I soon realized the problem. It turns out that they were under this heading:


Unfortunately, I did not look at the heading when I started reading, just as many readers do not.

Here’s the lesson for us as writers:

When we do not insert the word Don’t before each item in a list of don’ts, we can easily misinform our readers.

Don’t do that! Instead do this:

Use the word Don’t in front of every don’t you include, like this:

  • Don’t expect employees to train themselves. . . .
  • Don’t forget your international associates. . . .
  • Don’t allow employees to dismiss the organization’s ePolicies as insignificant or unenforceable.

Don’t you agree?


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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.