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Find the Error I Missed

Every month in my monthly e-newsletter, Better Writing at Work, I include a feature called Error Quest. In it, I challenge readers to find the one error I have purposely included in a short paragraph.

Every now and then, a reader recognizes an error I did not intend. That's what happened in the current Error Quest.

I have corrected the error I intended in the paragraph below. See if you can find my unintended error.

Twenty-seven students from India joined the program in June. Among the languages they speak are Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and English. Most of them are taking a year off work to focus on their studies in business management; a few have part-time jobs.

Did you catch the error? It may not be an error in the strictest sense, but it is an example of imprecise writing.

Note: The error does not involve the names of the languages.

I will leave it to Laura to explain the error. She is a writer-editor at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States government and the person who caught my unintended error:

"In the third sentence, the antecedent for them is the list of languages in the second sentence, rather than the twenty-seven students."

In other words, my use of them in the third sentence should refer to the plural noun in the previous sentence, which happens to be languages. Of course, I intended it to refer to students.

Here is a corrected beginning of the third sentence: "Most of the students are taking . . . ."

Thank you, Laura, for your excellent eye and for taking the time to send me your comment! I am pleased you are a writer-editor in my EPA. 

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.

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