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When Not to Write–An Example

I have been at home sick with a head cold for several days. Being unable to think clearly is one good reason not to write, and that is why I have been silent here. The words and ideas were not coming together in any coherent way.

There are many other times and situations not to write. I have covered eight of them in the latest issue of Better Writing at Work. (Subscribe for free.) One of them is "Don't write when you are worried that you have upset or offended your reader."

My friend Jean phoned me after reading the article "Don't Write When It Will Go Wrong." She said she was taking my advice and calling instead of writing. In her phone message she said she wanted to talk about a "misstep" she may have made with me.

I emailed back a brief message (both my head and voice weren't working) thanking Jean and letting her know I wasn't aware of any misstep.

Now the misstep is behind us. I don't even know what it was.

Had Jean written a lengthy message discussing the misstep, it probably would have cost her energy and worry. By mentioning it briefly in a message, she opened the door enough for me to respond and dispel her concerns.

If you have an example of a time not to write, please share it.

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.

2 comments on “When Not to Write–An Example”

  • Lynn,

    Hasty email responses, especially those that trigger a negative emotional response, are an example I’ve learned to control. To give myself extra time to ponder a message after I’ve clicked “Send”, I setup a rule in Outlook to hold all messages in my outbox for five minutes after I send them. This allows me time to delete the email, or at least to edit it, should I decide after sending it that I shoudl have responded differently.

    I created an instructional screencast showing others how to setup this rule. You can view it from the link on my blog at


  • Hi, Jason. Thank you for your excellent, clear tutorial.

    For anyone who watches the brief tutorial, be sure your speakers are turned on. Otherwise, you may think nothing is happening at the beginning, when the narrrator is introducing the rule.


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