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Two Sides of the Fence

Where I live, people fence their yards. Before the fence goes up, the homeowner decides whether the finished side, without the supporting posts showing, will go on the inside or the outside.

The essential question is this: Do I want my neighbors to have the attractive, finished view of my fence, or do I want to have it for myself?

At our house, we let our neighbors have the better view of the fence. We feel the satisfaction when we come home and see our house from the street.

The two sides of the fence remind me of email. Who has to finish it? The writer or the reader? If the writer does the work, the reader gets to see the finished side–a message that is clear, concise, and easy to read.

But if the writer doesn’t bother to finish the message, the work is left to the reader, who wonders: What is this about? Am I supposed to do something?  What? By when? Is this important? Doesn’t the writer care enough to finish this for me?

Which side of the fence are you on? Do you offer your readers the pleasant, finished view of your message?

The U.S. poet Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." What about good email?

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.