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How Do You Feel About Sloppy Supplier Messages?

A reader named Deborah shared a short email she recently received:

Dear Sirs,
pls let me have by return the supp docs about yr a.m. invoice because we cannot find our shpm.
Thks and rgds

How would you feel if you received this message? Would you care that it's riddled with errors? 

Let's count them:

  1. Dear Sirs: Deborah is not a Sir, and neither is half the world. 
  2. The sentence doesn't start with a capital letter. 
  3. "Let me have by return" isn't wrong, but it's too concise. Return what? 
  4. The abbreviations pls, supp, docs, yr, shpm, Thks, and rgds are lazy, and they're not all clear. Does supp mean "supporting," "supplementary," or "supply"? Shpm is probably "shipment," but I don't feel confident of it. I'd like to assume that a.m. means "morning," but with this writer, I'm not so sure. 
  5. Thks and rgds is not the way to communicate courtesy and professionalism, and a complimentary close needs a comma after it. (Many Europeans use open punctuation–that is, no marks after the greeting or the close–but this writer used a comma after the greeting and therefore needs one after the close.) 
  6. If this is an email, as Deborah said it was, it needs blank lines between the greeting, body of the message, and close. 

I normally don't have to deal with people who write this way. If you do, I'm wondering how you feel about it. Do you brush the errors off as standard for a quick communication? Do you doubt the writer's ability to handle your orders and think about looking for another supplier? 

When people I don't know write to me seeking a business relationship, I always judge them by their emails. If the greeting is "Dear lynng," I know it's a lazy mass mailing. If it has obvious spelling errors, I know their standards do not mesh with mine. Sometimes I respond to let them know I'm not interested; at others, I ignore the email, which doesn't seem worth my time. 

How about you? How do you handle such messages? 

Deborah, thank you for sharing the email.

P.S. A couple of days after this post, Deborah wrote to tell me that the writer was not a supplier, but a customer. You can read her helpful comment in the Comments section.

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.

8 comments on “How Do You Feel About Sloppy Supplier Messages?”

  • Lynn,
    I never walk past a mistake; doing so sets a lower standard. I have frequently pointed out to emailers the error(s) of their ways, suggesting they take a refresher course in grammar. Tough talk but they can certainly take time off from texting. Then I hit delete and block further emails from them. If they need to contact me, they will find a way.

  • If in seriously picky mode I might write back setting out all these points: asking if the sender sent me the message in error as my name is spelled incorrectly and in any case I am not a ‘sir’, asking what all the abbreviations mean, etc. etc.

  • Hi Bart,

    That’s an interesting approach. Unlike you, I rarely provide corrections, especially with strangers. It just takes too much time.

    It occurs to me that when you block further emails, you close the door on receiving a possible thank-you. I would wonder how the other person felt about receiving the input. Do you ever wonder?

    Thanks for commenting.


  • Hi Susannah,

    Sometimes I feel like being seriously picky too, and that feeling ends up in a blog post.

    I wonder whether anyone has ever responded to your feedback. Do you recall a situation?


  • Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for correcting me! I guess I should have realized that the writer was a customer. The word “invoice” should have made it clear to me, but I was focused on the errors.

    This changes everything. As you said, one certainly can’t ignore or correct a client (although sometimes my job IS to correct clients). And you would not want to fire a client.

    With things like “a.m.” as “above-mentioned,” I would go crazy.

    Thanks for clarifying.


  • Hi Lynn,

    Great to see that I gave you a good (or bad, should I say?) example!

    I didn’t provide much background, but it’s important to know that the writer is a customer, so I can’t really block them or even tell them anything about their writing.

    I’m still not sure what “supp” was meant to mean, and I’m afraid that “a.m.” stands for “above-mentioned”.

    I work in a commercial field and sadly I see an enormous amount of messages of this kind (even from my own colleagues). Me, working in administration, I try to keep a higher standard. But people in the operation/commercial department always complain to have very little time. They’re always in a hurry and every letter saved seems to matter a lot to them!

  • Hi Laura,

    Yes, they can be confusing. I am still amused that “a.m.” is “above-mentioned” rather than “morning.”

    Thanks for commenting.


  • I have started receiving more messages like the one in your example. They seem to come from people writing on a mobile device, where they don’t have the advantage of a fully functioning keyboard. The senders seem to be treating emails like text messages or tweets. I guess in that context, I can overlook errors, but your example shows how unclear the messaging can be!

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