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Get a Second Opinion

Last week in a Writing Tune-Up for Peak Performance class, a recent college graduate questioned the wisdom of one of my best practices for email. The best practice he questioned is this:

Get a second opinion before you send an email that is very important or intended for a large audience.

He said something like this: “If I have done all these other best practices, I don’t see any reason to get a second opinion.” And when I pressed him, “But if the message is VERY important?” he persisted in the view that another set of eyes wasn’t necessary.

By contrast, I–with 25+ years of business writing experience–always get a second opinion when a message is important or will have lots of readers.

Do I lack confidence? No. I simply know that another set of eyes, another brain, may catch something I missed or did not consider.

Here is an example of what someone missed recently when he sent out an application for a job: “I’m a died in the wool Mac user.”

Died in the wool? The employer he was approaching, Dan Balan of Intraqq, wrote back, “We don’t hire ghosts.”

Another set of eyes might have caught the error. Too bad it didn’t.


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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.

2 comments on “Get a Second Opinion”

  • Lynn,

    I have done this for YEARS. My husband is usually the “tone” check for my emails and I’m the GSP check for his.

    I’ve heard that it takes ELEVEN separate proofreaders to ensure a document is correct. (Do you have a similar guideline?) So, if anything is go out in mass, it only stands to reason that more than one or two people would review it.

    -Lori Luza

  • Hi, Lori. I don’t have a rule of thumb for the number of rounds of proofing. But my husband I are like you and your husband. In our case, he checks for tone, and I check for consistency and style. It’s a nicely complementary approach.

    Thanks for commenting!

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