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More From the Undersigned

I was teaching in Canada last week, and I came up against an issue that has also surfaced in U.S. business writing seminars. It has to do with that supremely formal “undersigned” person who appears at the end of letters in statements like these:

  • If you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned.
  • If you have any questions about the above-mentioned, please contact the undersigned.

I argued politely with my Canadian writing class participants that “the undersigned” could be simply stated as “me”:

  • If you need any additional information, please contact me.
  • If you have any questions about this information, please contact me.

They were not so sure. They felt that using “the undersigned” communicated an important degree of formality. They also believed the third-person “undersigned” indicated that they were writing for the company in a way that the word “me” did not. They suggested that even with their company name in all capital letters and their title beneath the complimentary close, “me” could suggest personal liability.

Not being a lawyer, I argued only on ground where I felt safe: in support of conciseness, clarity, and warm business relationships. On those issues, we agreed.

But today I call a witness: lawyer and lexicographer Bryan Garner, editor of Garner’s Modern American Usage. About “the undersigned” Garner writes in that book, “Even in law it’s a silly way of avoiding the first person.”

Yes, my Canadian friends–I admit my source is Garner’s Modern American Usage. But unless you can find a Canadian expert who defends “the undersigned” as necessary and meaningful, I invite you to join in using “me.”

Any questions or comments? Please write to the undersigned me.

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.

5 comments on “More From the Undersigned”

  • The only time that I would say using undersigned is at all viable anymore is for a secretary who is typing a letter, but is not certain who is going to sign it. However I think it would be better form him/her to find out who would sign the letter since I agree is sends the wrong message.

  • Lynn:

    Your topic in this post also points to a larger problem. Stodgy formality in business writing leads to monotone. Good communicators seek to stand out in ways that distinguish their writing. That is simply not possible when we all parrot the same old common phrases and formalities. Let’s all take your lead and refresh the language in ways that honor it.

  • hm. phrases such as ‘we the undersigned’ are expedient in petitions or other essentially signatory documents. not that i’m a fan of stodgy english either, and i agree there are superfluous uses verging on the moronic. however, i clearly AM a fan of replying to three-year-old threads….

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