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What’s Wrong With This Writing?

Last week I wrote the flyer for a business writing class I am offering online for the first time: Writing Tune-Up for Peak Performance. In the flyer, I included brief examples of typical business writing that needs tuning up. Thinking you might enjoy testing yourself on the items, I have included them below.

What is wrong with each chunk of text? Hint: Not one of the items has errors, but every item has at least one aspect that needs to be changed to be more effective.

1. As an email:

Subject: About Us Page Graphics

Mike, these graphics need approval.



2. As the last sentence in a message:

Thank you for informing us of this problem, and please call our toll-free number if you have any other questions or comments.

3. As the last sentence in a message:

If you should have any questions or concerns about the matter above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

4. Anywhere in a document:

It should also be noted that these items are contained within the estimate.

5. In an email:

We can meet anytime on Monday, September 17, except from 3 to 5 p.m.

6. In an email or letter about insurance:

Please provide us with a few items, which include a copy of the police report if you have one, any repair estimates and/or repair bills you may have, and a phone number where we can reach you during business hours.

7. In an email or fax cover sheet:

Here is the contract for your execution. We must have it in hand by EOD on Friday.


Did you recognize at least one weakness in each item?

Areas to tune up in each item:

1. Emma did not provide a deadline. Mike will not know whether to make this task a priority.

2. The sentence has two main ideas competing for the reader’s attention: thank you for this, and please do that. To communicate powerfully, include just one idea in each sentence.

3. The sentence is too negative (should, not, hesitate). It’s also wordy.

4. This sentence is weighed down with passives: should be noted, are contained.

5. It’s a bad idea to say when you are not available. The reader may unwittingly say yes to 3 to 5 p.m.

6. With that stringy sentence, the reader is likely to overlook at least one item.

7. Your execution won’t comfort any reader, and it’s vague. Many readers won’t recognize EOD. Global readers may be perplexed by in hand.


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.

3 comments on “What’s Wrong With This Writing?”

  • There is an on-going belief that good writing skills are not required for e-mail, while the truth is the skills are most definitely required. Many e-mail writers have become sloppy and lazy, resulting in many of the examples listed above.

  • Hi, Scott. Like you, I believe writing skills are very important in email.

    I don’t think people have become sloppy and lazy though. I think they are racing to get their work done efficiently. Their fast pace results in lots of inefficiency–when their writing does not succeed.

    Thanks for commenting.


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