Alternatives to ASAP

In a Better Business Writing class last week, a maintenance manager was looking for alternatives to "ASAP" (as soon as possible). As someone constantly on the receiving end of ASAP requests, she wanted a different phrase to use when she was requesting. She was tired of the snappy sounding ASAP, which she pronounced like a word rather than letter by letter, and she wondered about "at your earliest convenience."

Here are some alternatives with my interpretations:

–at your earliest convenience (formal, polite, but doesn’t sound terribly urgent)
–right away (urgent but not bossy)
–urgent/urgently (drop what you are doing–it’s urgent!)
–as soon as possible (almost urgent, a gentler version of the acronym)
–immediately (urgent, sounds bossy)
–as soon as you can (almost urgent, friendly)
–without delay (means now, sounds formal and a bit bossy)
–at once (urgent and bossy)
–soon (not quite urgent)
–quickly (not quite urgent)
–promptly (may suggest the reader has been slow)
–straight away (British for "at once" without the bossy feeling)

What do you write when you need something ASAP? What do you like to read when people ask you for immediate action? Please comment.

Lynn
Syntax Training

13 COMMENTS

  1. Somewhat urgent, but stresses convenience and is, therefore, more polite sounding: “The next time you…” followed by a description of a similar activity, such as “Please deliver this the next time you go downtown.” I use this often with our office courier who seems to head all over the place every day.

  2. I find that using ASAP could mean one of two things – either when you get around to it or immediately. So using that phrase may imply urgency that is not there or an urgent task may lose priority.

    For those without a huge priority, I may include info to indicate that it isn’t a rush but then give a time frame (in the next few days) or a specific date so there is no question.

    If the request is a screaming emergency, I might say just that or that I need it pronto. However, I usually ask rather than tell – This is a screaming emergency, can I have it pronto? That way, the reader gets the point but the message doesn’t feel quite so bossy.

  3. I am notorious for using “as soon as possible.” I normally don’t use the acronym, however. I do find it a little snappy and a bit condascending. To convey urgency I sometimes underline “as soon as possible.” If it’s extremely urgent, I’ll give a deadline such as “by noon today” or “within the hour.”

  4. I couldn’t agree more on ASAP. In addition to having become a vague cliche, it can come across as if the writer couldn’t be bothered to be specific or all-caps snappiness. If the need is urgent, I suggest offering a specific deadline — nicely — or simply some guidance on a time frame when the response would be of value (“My meeting is tomorrow at 2 p.m. — please, oh please.”).

  5. Thanks to you all–Amy, Anne, Julie, and Steve–for the fine suggestions. I especially like the term “screaming emergency” (have to remember that!), the specific timeframes, the polite “please,” and the “please oh please.”

    All good stuff!

    Lynn

  6. I’m glad to see this criticism of ASAP. I used to receive tons of ASAP requests at my old job. I finally decided to interpret ASAP as “when you’re done with everything else”, so the ASAP’s went to the bottom of the pile. People eventually caught on and began giving me actual date/time deadlines–an actual “screaming emergency” was rare!

    One more thought: If it’s a true “screaming emergency”, I believe a phone call or face-to-face request is both more appropriate and more effective. A follow-up e-mail can provide the necessary documentation of the verbal request.

  7. Thanks for the reminder about the phone call or face-to-face request. An email request leaves us wondering whether the person ever received it–not a good feeling if we need something “ASAP”!

    Lynn

  8. I used to prepare wills for a living and the ones with “ASAP” on used to go to the bottom of the pile. I felt that “as soon as possible” meant “when you have nothing else to do”. When they came up to me later, screaming for the “urgent” will, I would just say “You said as soon as possible…”. So they just started writing “URGENT” on everything!

  9. Hi, Annette. It sounds as though you and most of the world think ASAP means “If you ever run out of things to do.” It’s a wonder people still use it!

    Lynn

  10. I am the person who asked this question of Lynn. All of your comments have been very helpful. I never thought about putting the ASAP requests to the bottom of the pile. It would be passive aggressive for me to do so. I have picked up from your comments many alternatives and suggested them to the culprits.
    Joy

  11. Joy, people enjoyed talking about your topic. The fact that you benefited from the discussion makes it all the better.

    I am glad you do not put those “ASAP” maintenance requests at the bottom of the pile!

    Thanks for responding.

    Lynn

  12. Hi Lynn,

    I decided to search your blog for posts about “ASAP” after receiving multiple email requests that used the phrase “ASAP if not sooner.”

    I am glad to see I am not alone in recognizing that “ASAP” itself can sound snappy and a bit condescending. In my opinion, “ASAP if not sooner” is simply rude- not to mention truly preposterous!

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