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An Unimpressive Message From My Dentist

I want the best in dentistry–not business writing–from my dentist. But I'm still disappointed when I receive a pointless, error-filled email like the one below. In it, I have changed the name of the dental practice to "Your Favorite Dentist." Otherwise, it's identical to the email I received. What do you think of it?


Subject: Your Favorite Dentist — Updated Hours 

Starting Monday, November 5th, we'll be making some minor changes to our hours. If this effects your upcoming appointment, we'll give you a call.

Thanks for being a patient at Your Favorite Dentist, we look forward to seeing you soon!


What's wrong with the email? Read it again if you haven't found problems yet. Then consider my comments below. 




















First, the message disappoints me. The subject promises Updated Hours, but there is no information about them. 

Second, I don't have an upcoming appointment. Why did I receive this message? Why not send a clearer message to patients who do have appointments? Or simply call them, as the email states. If my dentist wants the rest of us to know about the new hours, the solution is to send us a message that includes them. 

Third, four errors may distract readers. See whether you can find them. 














  1. The date should be rendered as Monday, November 5–not Monday, November 5th. Every style manual follows this rule except The New Yorker's. 
  2. In the second sentence, the word this is wrong. It doesn't refer to anything in the previous sentence. "These changes" would be correct.
  3. In the second sentence, the verb should be affects–not effects. Effects as a verb means "brings about."
  4. The last sentence is a run-on, that is, two sentences connected incorrectly. 


Beyond those problems, the wording is unclear. "Starting Monday, November 5th, we'll be making some minor changes to our hours" suggests that the changes will be ongoing. This wording is clearer: Starting Monday, November 5, our hours will change slightly. 


My dentist's skills in dentistry have earned my confidence and commitment as a patient. Yet I hope the messages I get from the administrative team don't make me grind my teeth. 


How did you react to my dentist's email? Did it remind you of any messages you receive? 

Syntax Training 



Posted by Avatar photo
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.

23 comments on “An Unimpressive Message From My Dentist”

  • I received an email the other day relating to a product that I used. The email improperly used effects instead of affects. It annoyed me so much, I emailed the CEO to point out the error.

  • When I saw this post my first thought was it might be one of the dozens of letters I have written for dentists around the country and in Canada. It is not. (Whew) The letter you received is why I have been hired to write so many letters and other marketing materials. Thanks for a great post.

    Neale O

  • Great post, Lynn. This reminds me of two emails in particular – both with typos in the subject line. It grabbed my attention because of those typos alone. I received a marketing email from a craft store with “Sneak Peak” in the subject line (I emailed them, they thanked me). The second email advertised an event for “Christ Tucker.” 🙂

  • Maybe you could work a deal with your dentist: free dental care for expert email composition!

    Is my colon correct?

  • Hi Kelly,

    Those are both perfect examples. Thanks for sharing them.

    It was thoughtful of you to let the craft store know about “Sneak Peek.”


  • Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for sharing this real although incredible message. Your posts are one of the few e-mails I particularly find useful. And I’m in a french-speaking environment (Madagascar)!

  • I glanced at the message as if I were a patient, not a writer. I noticed their friendly tone and their promise to call to reschedule appointments. Then I noticed the new hours were missing. In this first glance, I didn’t notice the other faults, which are unfortunately the kinds of forgivable things you see in much business writing these days. But the person who wrote the message would probably be happy to receive some gentle feedback from one of us so they could write a better message the next time.

  • Hi Lynn,

    I do not have an example for you. But would like to make some comments.

    I must admit that at first I wasn’t too shaken by any mistakes as such. But when you urged me to look for some, I came up with some issues in addition to yours:
    – there is no address – ‘Dear client,’ (or did you simply not include it?)
    – no excuses for any inconveniences were made (maybe some clients can only come in at certain times of the day or week).

    Furthermore I disagree on your second point – ‘In the second sentence, the word this is wrong. It doesn’t refer to anything in the previous sentence.’

    I think it refers to ‘the making of changes’, which is singular and can thus be referred to by ‘this’.
    Am I wrong?

    Love the puzzles you present to us!

  • Being a stickler for detail :~ :

    It is not a ‘Sneak Peak’ nor a ‘Sneek Peek’ but a ‘Sneak Peek’

  • To be fair to your dentist, the email was probably sent from an office assistant, possibly the scheduler, not actually the dentist or any of the people who work on teeth. I would expect office personnel to be more clear and concise in their writing. I assume that is what you meant but you stated your dentist and didn’t want to place blame on someone who possibly didn’t write the email. 🙂 However, yes, I agree with all the points you make!

  • Hi George,

    Yes, I looked at the message as a writer, but also as a patient. When I saw “Updated Hours” in the subject, I was very curious. That’s what frustrated me and caused me to overanalyze the message.

    Two of the errors I pointed out are minor. But I flagged them because if I don’t, readers will point them out for me!

    I believe you are right about the gentle feedback. I’m not sure whether I want to move beyond my role as patient at the dentist’s office, but I will think about it.

    As always, thanks for commenting!


  • Hi Yvonne,

    Thanks for your questions and comments. Regarding the greeting, it was a mass email, and no greeting was incorporated. I think that’s fine. I don’t believe “Dear Patient” is necessary.

    That’s an interesting point about inconveniences. Perhaps the changes were so minor that inconveniences are unlikely. And maybe the staff will address any inconveniences in their phone calls.

    Because “we’ll be making” is a verb phrase, I don’t see it as a proper antecedent for “this.” However, I would not have actually noticed this tiny glitch if I weren’t presenting the example for discussion here.

    Thanks for pointing out “sneek peek” in your second comment. I shouldn’t be replying to comments after a long day and a glass of wine, should I? Thanks for giving me the chance to correct it.


  • Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for your clarifying point. You are right–the message no doubt comes from administrative staff. The dentist focuses on what he does best.

    And yet to patients, the message is from the dentist. That’s why I felt justified using the title “An Unimpressive Message From My Dentist.”

    I appreciate you keeping me honest!


  • Years ago, while working as an office manager in a four person office, my executives asked me to post an ad for an assistant; we were very clear in our ad as to the nature of the job along with the need for the candidate to demonstrate an ability to write clear business correspondence. Not one applicant had a completely error-free cover letter. I read every letter and noticed that two applicants used the SAME exact cover letter found on-line. One gal turned out to be one of our final applicants; after her interview I clued her in that I was aware of her use of an on-line cover letter. My two executives ended up NOT selecting her for other reasons, but at least I was able to advise her (sweetly) to use on-line letters cautiously and “make them your own”.

    I do a LOT of email writing (school secretary) to parents and am as careful as possible with proof-reading before hitting send. Inevitably mistakes get overlooked in the rush of a school day. On behalf of all assistants, office managers, etc, I beg forgiveness for our errors–and promise not to take too seriously the ones I see in parent emails as well!


  • Deb, thank you so much for telling us about the job applicants. It’s amazing that not one applicant had an error-free letter. Of course, some errors are more egregious than others, but I would have expected at least one person to have a perfect presentation.

    Thank you also for mentioning the cover letters taken directly from the web. You have given me an idea for a future blog post.


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