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Leslie O'Flahavan
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Yesterday, I spoke on a panel at the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Many thanks to Emily Paulsen -- health writer extraordinaire and co-chair of the Washington, DC ASJA chapter -- for inviting me to... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2011 at Writing Matters
Ever wondered what it would be like to receive a brush-off e-mail from a corporation's animal mascot? Well, wonder no more. Here's the "no thanks" e-mail a friend's son received after he tried out to replace the inappropriate Gilbert Gottfried... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2011 at Writing Matters
... after you stop hyperventilating, of course. Here's an e-mail I received today from Heather B.: Leslie, Recently a friend shared her chagrin at discovering that the closure in an email she sent with her resume to a prospective employer... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2011 at Writing Matters
Hello, Terri - Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your reflections on the role of culture in customer service communication are right on. I think we both agree that the agent needs training so she's able to pick up on the cultural clues in the customer's chat and deliver written service that's culturally "transparent," if possible. Thanks for weighing in!
Ha, Steve, you're right. "Ten" is way more official than "ten" or "10."
Earlier this year, I delivered a 90-minute webinar for Web Manager University entitled Write Plainly: An Update on Plain Writing Principles and the New Law. During the webinar, I discussed plain writing principles, and Kathryn Catania, PLAIN co-chair, presented information... Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2011 at Writing Matters
A couple of days ago, hackers stole data (customers' names and e-mails) from Epsilon, a company that manages e-mail marketing campaigns for some of the nation's biggest retailers. (Read the WSJ article "Breach Brings Scrutiny.") I must be a downstream... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2011 at Writing Matters
For this post, I am glad to welcome guest blogger Sarah Shepard, Senior Engineering Research Editor for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). You may remember Sarah; I blogged about her a few weeks ago. She's the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2011 at Writing Matters
I love Southwest Airlines: best prices, best schedules, best customer service, hands down. But the e-mail I received from them yesterday (click to enlarge, below) is pure blunder: It guarantees me a personal response within 10 business days. This is... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2011 at Writing Matters
At last, the economy is picking up a little. After a couple of years of "doing more with less," you may be lucky enough to be hiring. Maybe you've spent all morning digging through piles of cover letters, resumes, and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2011 at Writing Matters
Christine Calvert's comments (posted with permission: I actually wrote an e-mail just like that a few years ago. I was hired in to manage a communication department (on two days a week!). I knew that after my summer vacation, I would spend about a month just answering the e-mails I recieved during the summer. I wrote an auto-reply, stating: "I am on summer vacation. All e-mails I receive will be DELETED without being read. Please resend after 1. August." Only ONE person choose to resend her email (a lawyer). She even wrote, "Since it is now August, and not July, I choose to resend this e-mail regarding...". Of course I peeked through my inbox. About 600 e-mails that I didn't touch. Not one. The best of all - everything still got done, the department survived, I avoided all the copycopy-e-mails, and I could get right to work after my vacation. Lots of people, in my experience, shoot off loads of e-mail before a vacation, and think that their job is done. In this way, I placed the responsibility on the senders, instead of myself. And, yep, I would do the same thing all over again!
Susan Farr's comments (posted with her permission): Many people, including myself, alert senders that while away from the office "I will have limited access to email." Being away from the office for a long weekend, but having a palm device makes it a little difficult to ignore senders. However, being on vacation, or "out-of the-office" for an extended period of time, i.e. one week or more, should alert the sender that the email will sit in the in-box. My out-of-office rule would inform the sender that their message will be addressed when I return. We have enough trouble with users not maintaining their mailboxes for them to say 'resend'! But sometimes I would love to say "I'm away - leave me alone!"
Many thanks to the folks at who have just updated their Federal Plain Language Guidelines and published them at their site. I'm so excited about this wonderful resource that I'm presenting the entire Table of Contents here so you... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2011 at Writing Matters
Drew Foell's comments (posted with his permission): The message was certainly unique, and I can understand the author's position; however, blatantly stating said position at the end of his message was over-the-top. Positives 1. Dates of absence were provided. 2. Valuable contact information for immediate assistance was supplied. Negatives 1. The author stated his position that he would not read e-mail upon return. 2. The message was far too long for an "out-of-office" reply. 3. Asking the recipient to "resend [her] message" is an affront! Further Thoughts When I receive an out-of-office response, I expect it to be brief. The only information I either expect to read or want to read is that the individual is out and when that individual will return. Once I have received that response, I am aware that the individual will not respond until he or she returns. If a matter is urgent, I will take the matter to someone else. While I do understand the writer's concern with receiving an overabundance of e-mail while on vacation, and I also agree with the author's noble intention to leave work behind while relaxing, the writer errs on the side of TMI when he flatly states his position. The statement comes across as brash and even rude. Additionally, as above stated, the writer provides too much information for the recipient of the out-of-office reply. For example, if this individual does not wish to spend his time catching up on e-mail after his vacation, why has he written such a lengthy out-of-office reply that wastes the recipient's time--should the recipient subject herself to suffer through the lengthy message? I do not think it is fair to expect an employee (in most situations) to be tethered to work while vacationing. That said, any employee who takes vacation or is away from the office on a weekend or holiday should expect to catch up on work and messages missed while out of the office. I think the clincher in this circumstance is to ask oneself, "What would I say in a phone message?" No prudent employee would state in a phone message that he or she would not listen to missed phone calls. Such a statement is dismissive of the recipient caller as an individual! Likewise, the referenced auto-response is over-the-top and dismissive of the value of the recipient's time.
Judith Plumb's comments (posted with her permission): "I love Bob’s out-of-office message – it does, indeed, contain all the information required. Is he out of line in saying he won’t answer e-mails sent during his absence? I don’t think so – after all, it’s a work e-mail address and he has provided information on how people can handle work issues while he’s away. Anything that’s still important and hasn’t been taken care of by the time he gets back should be re-sent, with notification that this is a duplicate. Note that Bob doesn’t say he won’t read those e-mails, although that’s the implication – and I know that in similar circumstances I’d still read all my e-mail on my return just so I could get an idea of what had happened during my absence."
Colleen Blessing's comments (posted with her permission): "No, I don’t agree with not reading emails that were sent while you are gone. Hey, does he not check up on meetings and decisions that happened while he was gone either? Work goes on while you are away from the office, and professional people have a responsibility to at least scan their email inbox for important messages that arrived while they were out. Responding in this I-don’t-care-what-you-sent-I-am in-the-Caribbean kind of way probably ensures that he will be out of the loop on some things, not included in others."
As a long-time newsletter publisher, I am familiar with the reasons to "thin the herd" of subscribers who aren't reading the newsletter or responding to offers. A clean e-mail list means: Fewer spam complaints or bounces Accurate open and click-through... Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2011 at Writing Matters
Judy Woods' comments (posted with her permission): "His intro says to me, 'You’re not really all that important to me and I really don’t care what you have to say.' I would prefer to read, 'I’m going to be out of the office without access to email (give dates). The following contacts will be able to help you while I’m away. If you still have an unresolved problem, please contact me when I return.'
On February 23, 2011, I am teaching a day-long course for Web Manager University in Washington, DC. Content Managers' Playbook: Proven Strategies for Getting Readable Content is ideal for anyone who manages content and the people who write it. I've... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2011 at Writing Matters
This out-of-office e-mail landed in my inbox a few days ago. I don't know "Bob" personally; he's a member of a Yahoo! group I follow. (To preserve privacy, I have changed all identifying info in the e-mail.) I think Bob's... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2011 at Writing Matters
If you're a web writer, an editor, or a plain language advocate, you've probably encountered this frustrating situation frequently. You're editing a web page or document, and it's loaded with jargon. You flag the terms you know readers won't understand... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2011 at Writing Matters
Apparently, the very talented, the very commanding, and the very bad are just like you and me. They have inboxes crowded with e-mails waiting to be answered. Check out Mark Brownlow's Famous Inboxes blog and peer into inboxes that never... Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2011 at Writing Matters
Hello, Fran - great to hear from you again. Maybe our paths will cross again soon?!
When Leslie and I started E-WRITE in 1996 “the e-mail” was a very new tool and Al Gore was inventing the Internet. We knew that e-mail and the web would change how we communicate. But who could have envisioned Facebook,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2011 at Writing Matters
Thanks so much for your comments. I'm eager to learn more about the unplain language you translate. Care to share a story or sample?