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‘I Hope This E-Mail Finds You Well’
This phrase, beloved of vendors of products and services you probably don’t want and with whom you are unacquainted, is puzzling.
What do they mean?
The first possibility is that the sender hopes (or pretends, for the sake of fake-friendliness) that when the e-mail finds me, I am well.
That is, healthy, in a state of contentment etc.
That interpretation is unlikely not only because it presupposes the sincerity of the wish, but also because I am 99.999% sure that the sender would use good (not the grammatically correct well) in response to the question ‘How are you?’
The only other possibility is that the sender is hoping that the e-mail finds me well in the sense of its having travelled ’directly’ or ‘without difficulty’ to me through the ether.
Now that we’ve entered the third decade of e-mail’s widespread use as a communications tool, it is wholly unnecessary to be asking that very 1990s question, ‘Did you get my e-mail?’
Oh, it found me all right (and I wish it hadn’t). If it hadn’t, you’d have received a bounce-back.
Since the possible meanings of I hope this e-mail finds you well are either unlikely or inane, can we please consign this leaden opener to the dustbin of sales clichés?
Translation: ‘too long; didn’t read’.
This is the verdict, Aaron Orendorff argues, on most work-related writing.
Orendorff, a writer and editor, suggested a while back in the New York Times that your work colleagues really don’t want to read anything you write in a professional setting.
It’s not that they don’t like you or that you write badly; it’s just that they (like you) are inundated with reading material.
He offers eight strategies to get people to read what you send them (because some of it actually might be important):
- Write less often
- scarcity is more valuable
- keep personal conversations separate from professional channels
- wait before you send or reply, sometimes up to 24 hours – or don’t send at all
- keep it short
- brevity is the soul of wit (Shakespeare’s joke being that it is the tedious old bore Polonius who says that in Hamlet)
- put action words in the subject line of your e-mail
- not ‘Budget attached’ but ‘APPROVAL REQUIRED FOR ITEMS 9-12: Budget attached’
- listen rather than talk
- ask a clear, concise question that invite answers
- ask, don’t answer
- ‘use one or two sentences to describe the situation; then ask a single question and let the team chime in’
- ‘lead with the need’
- skip opening niceties and cut to the chase
- move the final sentence of your first draft to the top and then cut most of the rest
- provide an executive summary
- call it ‘TL;DR’, even
- especially useful for memos, agendas and group e-mails
- say who needs to do what by what date
- if this covers everything, omit the rest of the draft
- think of your readers
- is what you’re writing interesting or relevant for them?
- include your reader by referring to we not I or even you
- asking for someone’s opinion invites criticism; try to build on a shared identity
These eight points won’t make people hang on every e-mail you compose, but you may at least get their attention.
Problem Verbs (And Gerunds)
Problematic because they are newfangled and ugly.
Seen in a recent lawyer blog post: The court errored when …
Nope. It erred or made an error.
To paraphrase the poet, to err is human; to error is unforgivable.
We correctly refer to the skilled trades, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to turn skill into a verb.
Even worse are those jargony hybrids, reskill and upskill, and their derivatives reskilling and upskilling. (Can one ever downskill?)
You mean training, learning, acquiring new skills.
Typically a noun, but halfway to a verb in the dreadful visioning that people seem to be doing in (probably equally dreadful) team-building exercises.
One envisions, one sees.
Finding Alberta Government Publications
If you’re trying to find an Alberta government publication one very helpful resource is Alberta’s open government portal. This is “a collection of datasets and publications by government departments and agencies.” Currently it contains 24,503 Government of Alberta publications.
To search for a publication go to https://open.alberta.ca/publications; you can limit your results by topic, ministry and publication type. It also includes tags which can be helpful in locating similar publications.
The slash is more correctly called the solidus, the oblique or the virgule. We see it in URLs all the time.
It is much older than the interweb, of course.
If you are old enough, and British enough, you’ll remember it as the mark for a shilling: 2/- meant two shillings in pre-decimal currency. It was also used after the number of pounds: £4/5/3½ is ’four pounds, five shillings, threepence halfpenny’, that last bit pronounced thruppence hayp’ny.
The ½ symbol calls to mind another use of the solidus, in fractions (when the numbers aren’t placed vertically, with a straight line between). It is also used to express per, as in 100km/h. These are essentially the same usage, per here being the Latin for ‘by’ (1 (divided) by 2, 100 km by the hour).
We also use the slash in colloquial abbreviations where it separates the initial letters of syllables: A/C (‘air-conditioning’), b/c (‘because’), w/e (‘week-end’), w/o (‘without’).
So far so good, but there are some problematic uses of the solidus.
I can never remember which is a forward slash and which a backward one. Doesn’t it depend on which way you’re facing?
More significantly, the solidus can mean or but it can also stand for and. This might cause interpretive difficulties.
He/she and s/he probably mean ‘he or she’ and ’she or he’, but perhaps now have an element of gender fluidity to them.
In constructions like and/or, the solidus clearly means or. (But don’t use and/or, for reasons I’ve pointed out previously.)
The solidus can also function as and, as in this piece from the Law Society which describes James Wilson Morrice as ‘probably the most internationally renowned Ontario lawyer/artist’.
Better to say lawyer who was also an artist or lawyer-artist.
Why? Because it could be unclear whether your solidus is disjunctive (or) or conjunctive (and).
The party room and gym in this luxury condominium have state-of-the-art audio/video systems.
Hmm, that probably means they have both audio and video, but you can never be too sure…
Whatever you do, please don’t follow the lead of this writer for Slate, who spelled out each solidus as the word slash:
President Donald Trump issued a stunning threat-slash-promise-slash-constitutional fantasy.
We might do this in speech, but please — not in writing.
Thanks to John Hightower of Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne PC in Huntsville, Alabama, for suggesting the topic and directing me to that Slate horror.
This adjective isn’t my favourite. Perhaps it’s that weak, adverb-like —ly ending.
It’s unobjectionable in a timely reminder, but in a timely manner is like fingernails down a chalkboard, somehow.
I think that’s because of its fussy, needlessly formal tone and use of four words when one or two would suffice. On time (or even early) would do just fine.
Also unattractive is the American legal usage that turns the adjective into an adverb (as seen in the title of this US blog post): Does Your Company Timely Respond to All Reports of Potential Misconduct?
Are there are other ways to phrase it?
Promptly. That works.
Timeously. Very Scottish, so a bit outlandish in North America (or England).
Timelily. Perhaps the weakest of weak adverbs, with that unusual (but correct) —lily ending. Don’t.
I’d go with on time.
And in the timely reminder sense, you could also say well-timed, opportune, seasonable.
A Possessive Puzzle
Is it Amber and Veronica’s children or Amber’s and Veronica’s children?
It could be either, depending on what is meant.
The first refers to the children Amber and Veronica parent together; the second to two sets of children, separately parented.
So, you would say Amber and Veronica’s children are in regular contact with their biological father but Amber’s and Veronica’s children went on the school outing, travelling in separate cars.
Things are different when you combine a noun and pronoun in the same sentence, however.
This is correct: Angela’s and my view is that …
Use Polls During Student Training
It’s May, which means (if you happen to be a law firm librarian) it is summer student training time.
COVID-19 has meant that a significant amount of training is now offered online rather than in person. Online training has its own set of challenges, one of which includes keeping the participants involved.
One way of increasing involvement is by using polls in your training, either to establish what attendees already know or use (e.g. “what’s your favourite online resource?”) or to test them on what they have just been taught. Your options will (obviously) depend on what resource you are using for remote training.
If you are using Teams, you can find details of how to set up polls at https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/poll-attendees-during-a-teams-meeting-9923b7d4-ea97-4aa2-b8b8-b45fefe7d454. Teams offers three polling options: multiple choice poll, multiple choice quiz, and word cloud.
If you are using Teams, you can find details of how to set up polls at https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/213756303-Polling-for-meetings.
Whatever resource you use, I would highly recommend a trial run of polls before the training session.
Someone recently made this comment on LinkedIn: I’m so excited re: the below. (The colon may or may not have been there.)
Why not I’m so excited about this instead of the commenter’s mish-mash of somewhat immature enthusiasm and the lawyer jargon of re and the below?
If you think carefully when you write, something simple like it or this sounds much more natural than the above, the below, the latter, the former – which all sound stiff and pompous.
Dr Johnson counselled against these constructions, saying ‘As long as you have the use of your tongue and pen, never, sir, be reduced to that shift’ – shift being an eighteenth-century expression for a shabby expediency or forced measure.
And re — do we really need to use this vestigial piece of Latin? While it is usefully concise, if you’re composing something like a tweet, re has a definite air of ‘I’m using a word I would never have uttered before I went to law school and I’m only saying it now in order to sound like the real lawyer you may not think I am’.
So, to be dispensed with.
Re is a funny word, too, as it doesn’t quite mean ‘about’ or ‘regarding’ (or didn’t originally).
It is one of the grammatical forms (the ablative case, to be precise) of the Latin noun res, which means ‘thing’ — and, by extension, ‘subject’, ‘matter’, ‘affair’.
In law reports, In re sometimes appears in a style of cause, especially where the litigation is an investigation into the property of a bankrupt or the will of a testator. A famous example from Ontario is In re Estate of Charles Miller, Deceased,  OR 382 (CA). The name of that case might also be given as just Re Miller.
Use of re as a stand-in for ‘about’ goes back a long way (1707 is the earliest example in the Oxford English Dictionary), but try to do without it.
Try, particularly if your legal writing is already peppered with random bits of Latin like per and the dreadful commercial English of the nineteenth century (I acknowledge receipt of your letter, same being forwarded to our client for review). You are only alienating non-lawyer readers and sounding like some scrivener in a bad Victorian novel.
In the heading of your memo, Re: can easily be replaced by Subject:, which your reader may find more illuminating anyway.
This is now a thing, as they say.
I’m not entirely sure what it all involves, but then I’m not that keen on the non-electronic version of sports.
My interest in esports is orthographical, naturally. Why no hyphen (e-sports)?
The hyphen is routinely dropping out of e-mail (which I can live with), and to some extent e-commerce, but probably not e-filing or e-discovery.
Inconsistency on this point suggests that the decision whether to hyphenate is driven by look and sound: ecommerce may suggest a pronunciation starting in the same way as ecology, with the emphasis on the second syllable. This explains the occasional rendition of the word as eCommerce, to make it clear(er) that the emphasis is on first syllable. An old-fashioned hyphen would achieve that more elegantly.
Esports is, to me, perilously similar to escorts, which has an unfortunate connotation.