Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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« An Awkward Request Phrased Beautifully | Main | Should You "Dumb It Down"? »

August 21, 2018


Kelly at Twentysomething Vision

This is a great confession! I experience a similar concern when trying to book meetings with clients. I'll email them, "I'm available after 12 p.m." implying 12:15, 12:30, etc. 9/10 times, they respond, okay, let's meet at 12 p.m.

Something else I run into is asking too many questions, or phrasing a question incorrectly. When I include "or," I often get a yes or no answer, instead of the client choosing an answer. "Would you like to enable this, or would you like to edit the settings?" "Yes." It's definitely something I try to rephrase now!

George Raymond

Stating availability in a negative way is often more concise. Saying a museum is open "daily except Mondays" is clearer than saying it's open "Tuesdays through Sundays". The problem in your example may be that "impossible" is too close to "possible". You could instead say "any day except Wednesday".

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Kelly,

I like your 12 p.m. example. How do you write it to get the answer you need? I would try "I'm available from 12:15 on" or "I'm available from 12:15 to 2 p.m."

The "or" situation is familiar in my personal life. After I get the yes or no answer from my husband or daughter, I find myself saying, "That was an OR question."

In business writing, I would probably phrase that with bullets, like this:

Which would you prefer:
-- Enable . . .
-- Edit the settings

Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your input.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi George,

I agree with you about the value of brevity. I also agree that the word "impossible" was a problem.

Still, in my experience "any day except" often doesn't work either. In the blog post I linked to from many years ago, here's what happened:

I wrote, "I can get together any day except Friday." She wrote back, "Great! I'll come to your office on Friday."

When I see "open Tuesday through Sunday" at a museum, I realize immediately that Monday is excluded. Although longer, I think that phrasing works in general writing too.

As always, I appreciate your views.


Kelly at Twentysomething Vision

Hi Lynn,

Thanks for the feedback. That's very helpful! The 12 p.m. feedback you provided seems like an easy adjustment: "I'm available from..." but it's something I hadn't thought of.

I like the idea of using bullet points for the "OR" questions. That might make it easier to read too, visually. I'm certainly going to try both of those. Thank you!

P.S. After reading your post title again today, I'm now singing the Beatles in my head. :)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Kelly, you are welcome. And thanks for noticing that catchy Beatles song title.


Jennifer Nauss

When I list times that I'm available, for clarity I add my end time. In one of the examples above, does being available from 12:15 to 2 p.m. mean that you are available to start the meeting, tour, etc., between those times or does it mean you have to leave by 2 p.m.? Using that same example, I'd say that I'm available anytime starting at 12:15 p.m., but must leave by 2 p.m.


Isn't it sad that we have to adjust to lazy readers? Ok, it's easy to read "possible" instead of "impossible", but how can you skip a whole "any day except"?

People who care the most, always have to make up for those who can't be bothered reading all the words in a sentence. If I took the time to write them, why can't they take the time to read them?

I know this is a pointless rant... Thank you for your advice, as always it's going to be useful and make our communicative lifes easier!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Jennifer,

I like the way you clarify the times. Thanks for your suggestion.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Deborah,

Thanks for stopping by. It's not a pointless rant--you make good points.

I agree that those who care the most have to do the most work. That seems to be true in many aspects of life.


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