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Copy What Works

A new instructor led our water aerobics class at the local pool yesterday. Unfortunately, every choice she made showed her lack of experience.

She led us in doing the same exercise for minutes (boring). She had us work on our legs without exercising our arms (inefficient). She spoke too softly to get our attention over the music, and she had side conversations that kept us repeating the same movements while we waited for her to finish.

I wish the new teacher had observed the class of an excellent instructor, Peter, who always pushes us to have a good workout and a good time. If she had copied only half of what he does and how he does it, her class would have been effective. And people would not have been talking in the locker room about going to other pools.

The same is true of writing: If you are new to business writing–or to writing a particular type of document–copy what works.

Don’t flounder the way the new aerobics teacher did. If you are assigned a new writing task, ask your supervisor for an example of what he or she expects. Get good examples of proposals, meeting minutes, announcements, and performance appraisals–whatever kinds of business writing are new to you.

With a model proposal, you will recognize how to focus on the client’s needs. With samples of good meeting minutes, you will know how much to record. Model announcements will help you include all the necessary information, and examples of performance appraisals will help you identify the appropriate professional tone.

If you supervise writers, be sure to share excellent examples of the kinds of business writing you want.

My book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time includes more than 200 samples of effective messages.

My guide Help Employees Write Better: A Guide for Managers, Trainers, and Others Who Care About Business Writing includes 60 ways to improve employee writing and solve writing problems.

Model your writing on the effective writing of others. Copy what works.


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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.

6 comments on “Copy What Works”

  • Great post. I love templates, examples, samples, models, guides, blueprints, scaffolding, etc.

    When I started writing business copy, I shrunk from them because I thought they’d stifle creativity, inhibit originality and muffle my “voice”. However, I learned the opposite was true.

    Templates, samples and models are catalysts. They open the gates though which the ideas and words flow.

  • Hello Lynn,

    This can naturally make the difference between getting the response you want, and failing to get the result you’re hoping for.

    Using example letters as templates will help you to avoid falling into several traps, and can therefore affect the outcome you receive from your correspondence.

    I love it and this will make it easier to read, and will have a positive subconscious effect on the reader.

  • Good templates are very useful. Unfortunately, templates available online often contain errors and odd style choices.

    I recommend asking for model documents on the job or getting examples from recognized experts.


  • Please find Herein attached the statistics figure divided by month.

    what is the best synonym of this sentence pls?

  • Rajaa, you might try this revision:

    Attached are the statistics by month.

    The word “synonym” means “word that has the same meaning.” It applies to only one word at a time. For an entire sentence, an accurate word would be “revision.”


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