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Be Nice and Make Less Work for Your Reader

The other day at my health club I asked an employee what time the bank parking lot was available for club members' use. I knew I could use the bank lot when the bank closed, but I wasn't sure what time that was. The employee responded, "You'll have to ask at the bank." 

The health club has arranged with the bank for club members to use the parking lot. Why wouldn't the club employee want to know about the closing time herself? Why make individual club members find out from the bank? 

I didn't give any flak to the employee because I'm trying to spread joy rather than annoyance. Instead, I thought about how the situation relates to writing. How can people avoid coming across as uninterested and instead take the next step for their readers? Below are a few ideas I thought of. Please add yours. 

If someone: 

1. Asks for something and you aren't the right person to provide it, forward the email to the person who can. But before forwarding, make sure there's nothing in the original email that the writer would not want forwarded.  

2. Emails a question and you can't answer it now, reply anyway. Let them know when you will have the information, so they don't have to worry that you didn't get the message. 

3. Will need to schedule a meeting with you, email suggested meeting times rather than waiting for them to do it. If you work with them, add the meeting to their calendar. 

4. Needs to take a step forward on a project, offer suggestions of next steps instead of just asking "What do you want to do?" 

5. Wants to connect with an associate of yours, don't just provide the person's email. Introduce them by email to make the job easier for both of them. Read How to Introduce Two People in Writing for tips and examples. 

6. Needs information from a website, give them a specific link within the site, not just to the home page. 

7. Needs an answer from you–and your answer is no–reply promptly. Don't make them ask again. Here are tips on How to Say No.

Can you think of other ways to make life easier for readers? If you share them, you may make life easier for readers around the world. 

This week a article "How to Send Stern Work Emails Without Burning Bridges" featured some of my ideas. Check it out!

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.

17 comments on “Be Nice and Make Less Work for Your Reader”

  • I agree. Doing the minimal seems to be a growing standard in may circles these days. Being helpful doesn’t cost much, in some cases just a few extra seconds. But the impact is big: it shows respect for the recipient and that they matter. Isn’t that how we all want to be treated? Thanks for this post.

  • This has been mentioned before, but writers (and, less excusably, online reservation systems) often omit the day of the week when naming a future date that could involve the reader, saying for example June 21 instead of Thursday, June 21. This forces each reader to determine that June 21 is a Thursday. Similarly, I never write “tomorrow” in an email, but rather (for example) “tomorrow Tuesday”.

  • George, the day of the week is essential. Thanks for mentioning it. If I haven’t done a post solely on that topic, I will.


  • #2 is huge in my book, Lynn. I’ve written several blog posts on how the simple acknowledgment of an email improves communication.

    I also like your suggestion to provide specific “next steps” or meeting times. Typically, I add the question, “Will that work for you?” when offering a specific date and time or certain action.

  • Thanks, everyone, for the great comments that came in while I was sleeping!

    Devon, I think you are handling the situation correctly. If you can’t easily help the reader, it doesn’t make sense to add a task to your to-do list if it’s not your responsibility. Sometimes just making your suggestion is all you can do.

    Miri, I love your question: “Why would anyone pass up an opportunity to learn something new and look like a winner to others in the process?” Indeed.

    Cathy, the email acknowledgment issue is huge. Right now I am wondering whether a client received an email I sent over a week ago, asking for input into a class. I am guessing he did, but a quick acknowledgment would have removed all doubt. I also like your “Will that work for you?” suggestion.

    Colleen, I appreciate your suggestions. I should have mentioned your first point, and I may go back and add it–it’s really essential. Thanks!


  • Can you offer any advice when a co-worker asks you a question and you aren’t the right person, plus you have no idea who to ask? I usually advise them to research who is in the related department, but that doesn’t seem like enough. Thank you for the article!

  • Thank you for highlighting one of my major pet peeves, both at work, and in writing. If you’re called upon with a question, and you’re not sure of the answer, offer to get it. Why would anyone pass up an opportunity to learn something new and, look like a winner to others in the process?

    I just don’t understand the rise of the “detachment principle.”

  • Great article as always! For No. 1, may I also suggest that if you are not the right person for the job but know who is: (1) when you forward the email, copy the original writer so he or she can follow up as needed, or (2) reply and provide the name/email address rather than forwarding, which allows the writer the freedom to make contact directly plus determine him/herself how much to include in the email.

  • Wonderful article Lynn as always.
    I work in the accounting field and there are a lot of follow ups on payments and invoices. Even if I have sent the same attachment multiple times. I always make sure that the receiving party has all the information they need right there in the last email I send.

  • Thanks for this great article. You convey a great suggestion in your article and will help many writers. Hear at edu birdy we always try to ensure that the information we convey to our readers is complete and correct.

  • It’s very helpful! Thanks Lynn
    Could you please also advise the term “amended invoice” or “revised invoice”. I normally need to make some changes to the invoices have been issued. I’m not sure which one is correct? What’s the different between them?
    Thank you

  • Hello Nhu,

    I believe you can use “amended” and “revised” interchangeably in your situation. I think of “amended” more as “corrected,” with “revised” more as “updated.” However, my dictionary sees them as synonyms.

    I apologize for the delay in responding. I have been away on vacation.


  • It’s pleasant to start a day with such a positive post. I completely agree with you that better to think how to make life easier and keep the mood positive than to ignore the customers or readers request. Thanks for recommendations.

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