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“Let’s Discuss”–A Cliffhanger

In a business writing class I taught recently, several managers ended their messages with this cliffhanger:

Let’s discuss.

The sentence is not a cliffhanger because we don’t know what will come of the discussion. It’s a cliffhanger (something that leaves the audience hanging on for more) because we are waiting for another word or phrase. Let’s discuss what?

Discuss is a transitive verb. In other words, it requires an object. We can’t just discuss–we have to discuss something. Discuss is different from talk, argue, and debate. Those words do not require an object. We can talk, argue, and debate without indicating what we are talking, arguing, and debating about. Discuss does not work that way. We must provide an object when we use it:

Let’s discuss the issue.
Let’s discuss a solution.
Let’s discuss the football game.
Let’s discuss the use of transitive verbs.

To use "Let’s discuss" at the end of a message is to write an abbreviation. For informal email, that may be fine. But for much business writing–especially memos and reports up the chain from managers to directors to vice presidents–"Let’s discuss" is substandard.

Language evolves. Perhaps when I teach those managers again in a few years, "Let’s discuss" will have become standard in business writing. Maybe it will have been reclassified as a transitive and an intransitive verb. Until then it’s a cliffhanger.

If you don’t agree, let’s discuss . . . it. Please leave a comment.

Syntax Training

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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.

6 comments on ““Let’s Discuss”–A Cliffhanger”

  • Up until now I always signed off emails with “Happy to discuss”.
    I never felt satisfied with that cliffhanger. And now I know why!
    Your tips are always a step forward in writing better business notes.

  • Guy, thanks for telling me about your realization and sharing a compliment. Your comment made me smile.


  • Thank you for confirming my thoughts, where I was thinking that “let’s discuss” isn’t proper grammar. It seems like everybody I know uses it – in e-mails, in voice messages… wherever – and even though they’re trying to sound smart and professional, by ending with “Let’s discuss” it makes them sound uneducated. It’s such a cliche that I wish would go away.

  • Dee, why not start a new trend? Maybe if you end the message “Let’s talk about this situation” or “Let’s talk,” people will use that close instead.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Three years later – did “let’s discuss” get more common for you by now?
    In my opinion it’s a nice ending phrase which indicates, that the previous message isn’t an instruction or definitve assertion but an opinion and at the same time an invitation for an intellectual exchange, which is absolutely positive!
    For me, the missing grammatical object of “let’s discuss” is always the preceding topic, so I don’t feel, that an object is missing…

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