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A Tale of Two Emails

Yesterday I received two solicitations by email. One succeeded with me; the other failed.

Notice what works in this message, whose writer gave me permission to share it with you:

Subject: Visit Request


Good Afternoon Lynn,


On behalf of the Holiday Inn Seattle & Holiday Inn Express and Suites, I would like to introduce myself as your contact for any travel or meeting needs in the Seattle area.  I understand that your association may hold classes/seminars throughout the year, and I am writing to see if we can assist you with any of these arrangements.


Would it be possible to set up a time for me to come by, reconnect with you and drop off some goodies on Wednesday this week?  Please let me know what time works best for you!


I look forward to hearing back.  Thank you for your consideration and support.

Katie Snowden
Catering Sales Manager
Holiday Inn Seattle [followed by contact information]

I like a lot about Katie's message:

  1. It's personal. She wrote to me, not to "Dear Sir or Madam."
  2. It's brief. All three paragraphs are short and crisp.
  3. It's time-sensitive. Katie wants to stop by on Wednesday with a specific purpose.
  4. It's intriguing. What are those goodies she wants to drop off?
  5. It gives me a specific action to take. I don't have to figure out what to do with the message.  

Sure, you may see things you want to change in Katie's message, but she got through to me. I responded within moments of receiving her email.

By contrast, another solicitation email I received yesterday turned me off. The first thing I noticed was that the writer used the Outlook red exclamation point, indicating a message sent with "high importance." To whom was it so important?

The email started with an apology: "I apologize for the intrusion." Why would a message of value to me be an intrusion? With his opening sentence, the writer suggested an intrusion I would not otherwise have felt. (Opening with an apology may be standard in some cultures, but to me it suggested a negative.)

The second sentence confused me: "I think that by adding the sort of training I offer, you will help your client to fulfill their training needs under one roof." In the second sentence, I didn't yet know what kind of training he offered, and I was slowed down by the singular "client" combined with the plural "their." And why was he talking about one roof?

A resume was attached, but not in a format I could open.

At the end of the email beneath the writer's contact information, my phone number appeared. Since someone I don't know was copied on the message, I am guessing my phone number was included for that cc'd person to follow up with me.

I admit that if I had been interested in what the second writer offered, I might have responded more positively. But I don't feel a positive connection now.

Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (whose title inspired my Tale of Two Emails) begins with the words "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Our times may be somewhere in the middle, but it is always a good idea to send our best work, especially in sales letters.

Please share your view.

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.

13 comments on “A Tale of Two Emails”

  • Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Isn’t it fun to talk about an example?

    Jason and Waqas, the standard capitalization for the greeting is:

    Good afternoon, Lynn.

    As you can see, I added the comma before my name, which is also standard. However, I have noticed that many experienced writers are dropping the comma in the greeting. I guess because “Hi Lynn” has replaced “Dear Lynn” in email, they have adopted the no-comma style. I still use the comma because I regard “Hi, Lynn” as direct address.

    Joel, I am delighted you discovered this site. Why not tell your staff about your find and give them the URL? You and they may also be interested in my free monthly e-newsletter, “Better Writing at Work,” which covers the same kinds of business writing topics in more depth. You can subscribe at

    And, Joel, don’t worry about having your writing analyzed here. I simply appreciate people’s input, and I don’t look for perfection (which, by the way, is NOT attainable).

    JJB, I am glad you pointed out the effective limited choice Katie gave me. The way she phrased it, it would have been rude of me not to respond to her specific request.

    Again, thanks to all for taking the time to share your ideas.


  • Lynn,

    I agree with your opinion of the writer’s overall message. What is your opinion about the greeting?

    Should all letters be capitalized?

    Should there have been a comma before your name, too?



  • Lynn,
    Thank you for this very helpful blog. I discovered your blog today and read nonstop for one hour. What you write here is what I have been trying to teach our staff for years. Your latest blog, comparing a good and a bad message, was especially pertinent. I need to share this with my staff, I wonder which way is best?

    Darn, it’s difficult to write knowing this message will surely be dissected!

  • Lynn,
    Tale of the Two Emails is very interesting like of Cities. I completely agree with what you said. Infect the need is to understand that E-mail is not just a typed message. This is a formal message which conways your company’s philosophy and overall attitude, and as well as how important this reader is for you.


    Should all letters be capitalized?

    Not necessary unless you want to put an excitement in your message.

    Should there have been a comma before your name, too?

    I do but some people do not.
    (These are my personal statements)

    @Lynn, Am I right? It’s very good to read your post.


  • Thanks for sharing Katie’s email! You made a great observation about the time-sensitive nature of Katie’s message. There’s a tendency, I think, to want to give people CHOICE, particularly when we’re not in a position of authority. I love that she didn’t burden you with having to come up with a convenient date and time to meet. All you had to do was check one date on your calendar. Katie made your life easier by giving you LESS CHOICE.

  • Hi, Lynn.

    Thank you for the interesting post.

    Good sales letters usually address the reader as ‘you'(in second person). The same goes for websites, brochures and other promotional formats. The letter above includes ‘you’ and ‘your’ many times. Some writers make the mistake of writing ‘our customers’ when they could write ‘you’.

    Best regards,

    Michael Gladkoff

  • I think the first email was generally good, but the one thing I don’t like is that Katie is relying on you to respond. Personally, I feel if somebody is trying to sell me goods or services, they need to be the one who makes the effort to contact me.

    So having sent the first email, I think Katie should have followed up with a phone call to check that you were happy to meet her, rather than expecting you to email her back.

  • Liz, thanks for your view. I often judge writing on whether it works, and Katie’s message worked with me.

    You’re right–typically the follow-up step belongs to the seller, not the buyer.


  • Method was very effective. I did test it out with my colleague and get the email response within 5 min with a calendar invitation on the date I wanted, this almost never happened before.

    Thanks, please keep them coming.

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