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Smiling at My Inbox

This week I received an email from someone who wanted to write for this blog. In the five-sentence message, I noted these little blunders:

  • No words were capitalized, not even my name.
  • The phrase "clients website" had no apostrophe.
  • The first sentence, "hope you are well," ended with a hyphen, not a period.
  • The second sentence, a statement about wondering, ended with a question mark.
  • The third sentence, like the first, ended in a hyphen.
  • The last sentence, "let me know what you think," ended in a smiley face.

Yes, I was smiling–and sighing.

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.

4 comments on “Smiling at My Inbox”

  • Hi Lynn,
    This sounds a very weak application and I agree with all your points on this, bar one.

    Surely in the right context, one can punctuate a statement about wondering with a question mark?

    If I say: I was wondering if you might be free tonight? I would use a question mark. However, if I say: I have been wondering for a long time about the meaning of life. Then obviously I would use a full-stop.

  • My opinion on the proper punctuation to use in a statement about wondering is as follows:

    When writing a sentence beginning in “I wonder,” I always end with a period. “I wonder whether this shirt matches this skirt.” Or, “I was wondering whether you have time to stop by my office.”

    However, when asking a question, it is less confusing and more direct to simply ask outright. In most cases, I would not write, “I was wondering whether you have time to stop by my office.” Instead, I would write the following: “Will you have time to stop by my office?” This way there is no doubt which punctuation mark is correct, and it sounds less mousy and more confident.

    Lynn, the email you received sounds frustrating to me rather than amusing. I am astonished at how frequently people represent themselves unprofessionally, and yet still expect others to take them seriously in a business situation. Although I often forgo the use of capitalization in quick exchanges with close friends or family, I would never dream of writing a business email in such an informal style – especially an email offering to contribute to a business writing blog! One can only wonder what on earth this applicant expected.

  • Hi, Liz. Thanks for asking your question about wondering. I agree with Stephanie’s reply.

    I noted that you phrased your comment “If I say . . . ” Yes, we might SAY, “I was wondering if you might be free tonight” as a question. But we would WRITE it as a statement followed by a full stop (period). At least that is what we would do in the United States. We would view it as a statement–not a question.

    Do style guides in Britain suggest a question mark after “I was wondering” remarks?

    Thanks for raising the question.


  • Stephanie, thanks for commenting and addressing Liz’s question.

    You are right: It is astonishing that some people present themselves so unprofessionally. Still, I have to smile rather than frown. If I found such messages frustrating, I would be frustrated every day!


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