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August 29, 2017


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Cathy Miller

I love this, Lynn, probably because I am often "just" one. There's a tip right there. The word "just' often diminishes and I know I am guilty of doing it to myself - e.g., I just wanted to follow up. Sounds like I think I need an excuse. And, yes, I did read Ellen Petry Leanse's Business Insider article about that word. ;-)

I'm working on it. :-)

Cathy Miller

Oops, my link to the article didn't work. I'm diminishing my response. ;-)


Business Writing Blog

Hi Cathy!

How funny! Just a moment ago I searched for and copied the link--only to see you had followed up. Thank you!

Thanks for bringing in that other important weakness of "just"--its ability to diminish us (not only our readers).

As always, I appreciate your valuable input.


Virginia Sowell

Love this! I often feel diminished when I ask a question and get a reply that says, "I'm sorry you misunderstood" instead of "I'm sorry I was unclear." It's always good to assume the person with whom you're communicating has good intentions and is not stupid.

Business Writing Blog

Virginia, thanks for the perfect example and excellent advice.


Tommaso Caldarola

True words. Often I listen to this in the office.

Jim Baum

I work in IT. Besides the "just" word, another diminishing word is "simply." Instructions using the word "simply" are usually difficult!


I am unable to understand why these two are considered negative words. If I use complaint or confusion in my sentence to them, why is the person using it back to me considered a negative?

Uses negative words to characterize your behavior, such as "I received your complaint" or "I understand your confusion."

Business Writing Blog

Tommaso, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Jim, thanks for the wonderful example. "Simply" says to the reader "If it's not simple for you, you're a loser."


Business Writing Blog

Hi Sharon,

Good question! In my example, I was not assuming that you had used the words "complaint" and "confusion." If you had not, the writer would be characterizing you as a complainer or a confused person. If a customer service rep told me they understood my confusion, my reaction might be "I'm not confused--you are not making sense." I would not write that, but I might think it.

Even if you had used "complaint," the writer's use of it would emphasize and continue the negative feeling. Instead the response might be "Thank you for writing to us about your experience."

With "confusion," if you had used it, there would be nothing wrong with the writer replying "I understand your confusion," especially if the writer's company had caused the confusion through its communication.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify my point. I changed the phrasing in the post to "Introduces negative words" rather than "Uses negative words" to make it clearer.



Thank you Cathy, for posting a link to the article about the word 'just'. I often question my use of the word in emails, usually deleting/replacing the word with a reframed sentence. I had that "feeling", as though use of the word 'just' diminished the strength of my position. It is great to see my feelings validated.


I experience this all the time, from both customers, colleagues and managers. It can be frustrating and even hurtful, but I am grateful to have learned how to respond in a way that turns the situation around.

I've removed the details here, but once a colleague who is senior to me sent me a one-sentence email saying, "You’ll need to tell me why you did that when you should have done this..." (complete with the ellipsis).

Based largely on the influence and learnings I have taken from this blog over the years, I was able to write a concise, respectful email back at the time explaining why I took the action I did and stating, "I’m not sure how I would have been able to tell that I should have done this instead in this situation, but I am happy to learn."

My colleague then realized that I was acting based on the only info I had access to, and recognized that what I did made sense in that case.

I am very grateful for this blog in helping me learn to diffuse tension and respond well in these kinds of situations.

Business Writing Blog

Pamela, I am glad you benefited from Cathy's link.


Business Writing Blog

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you so much for sharing your example and your appreciation. From the email notification I received about your comment, I know who you are, and I am grateful for you as a reader.


Tamara D. Davis

Thank you, Lynn. The second bullet is a pet peeve of mine. I cannot stand to read an article where the writer doesn't indicate what an acronym stands for. I like all of the comments on today's post. Very engaging!

Business Writing Blog

Hi Tamara,

Acronyms drive me nuts too. I find that when I have a new experience WITHOUT acronyms or a feeling of ignorance, I notice and appreciate it. I recently bought a new bicycle, a sleek "commuter" bike. I worried that at the hip Seattle retail store, Evo, they would speak a language I didn't understand. But the entire experience was comfortable and educational.

Thanks for stopping by with a comment.



Dear Lynn,

I totally understand how Barb feels. I am from Thailand and I often hear this question when I enter a restaurant alone. It doesn't sound nice to me but I don't know if I should tell that waiter/waitress or not.

Ps. I learn a lot from your blog and my writing skill is getting better day by day.



Hm, "Just one?" and "Will anyone be joining you today?" sound equally degrading. Though, I'm not native speaker.

In my opinion, most neutral is "How many"?

Business Writing Blog

Hello Wep,

It took some tact for Barb to communicate her message to the server, but the server welcomed the feedback. If you are asked "Just one?" at a restaurant you visit regularly, it may be worth letting them know how you feel about the question. Or you might let them know the number in your party before they ask. You might greet them and then say "I would like a table for one please."

Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my blog. I am glad you have learned from it!


Business Writing Blog

Hi Alex,

Thanks for sharing your view. To me, the question "Will anyone be joining you?" seems neutral, whereas "Just one?" suggests a judgment.

I too like "How many?" as a neutral option.



Another word I often hear during training sessions is "obviously". Yes, it may be obvious information to a trainer or subject matter expert, but not to learners receiving the information for the first time. It makes the audience feel dumb if something is not obvious to them, like they should have known!

Business Writing Blog

Another great example, Stephanie. Thanks for posting it.

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