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Email Can’t Think for Us

Email is just a medium of communication. But I wish it would think for us at times like this one:

I received an email a couple of weeks ago from someone inviting me to offer a business writing class to members of her well-known organization. She asked me to respond by email or phone, and she included her cell phone number.

Because I was going out of town, I replied quickly by email, telling her I would be happy to lead a class. I wrote, in part:

"Next Thursday, June 19, I am available all day. Shall we talk on the phone then? Or would you prefer to communicate by email?"

She responded by email:

"I think it would be easier to talk over the phone. I am available June 19 between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Let me know if there is a time that works better for you. I look forward to speaking with you then."

Can you tell what went wrong from this exchange? Reread our messages and see if you can recognize a problem.

It has to do with assigning responsibility.

Here’s what happened: Neither of us called the other. I believed she would phone me, and since I was in the office all day, I didn’t pay attention to the time. She thought I would call her, so at almost 1 p.m. on Thursday, she emailed to reschedule our phone call.

We connected today by phone–and got a good laugh about how our email communication went awry. Happily, she still wants me to offer a class for her group. The topic? Efficient email.

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.

4 comments on “Email Can’t Think for Us”

  • Email communication is so unprofessional when it comes to business, I think.

    I, too find it funny when I communicate through email per business, we get nowhere.

    But I do have to say per your email – I took it that you were going to call her as you asked the question about calling.

  • Tery, thanks for your comment. Yes, it seems that I was the one who should have called. Next time I will take the initiative–or clarify in writing!

  • Dear Amjad Ali,

    Did your question come from an instructor? The command form “Give solid reasons” sounds as though a teacher wrote it in an assignment. Because I am not a student, that approach does not sit well with me. I appreciate “Please,” “I would appreciate,” and “Thank you” rather than commands.

    That said, sentence structure is important because it helps us communicate quickly, clearly, and effectively. Without sentence structure, it is difficult if not impossible to understand who, what, when, where, and why.

    My newsletter, “Better Writing at Work,” offers tips on sentence structure this month. You may subscribe for free at

    Best wishes,


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