Tag Archives: danger of humor in business writing

A Quick Punctuation Quiz

Which choice is correct? Check your answers at the end of the quiz.

  1. (a) Smith referred to her as, “that useless cow.”  (b) Smith referred to her as “that useless cow.”
  2. Eyewitnesses fled the scene in (a) a brown, 2002 Ford  (b) a brown 2002 Ford.
  3. (a) Dr. Allen told her to: do whatever it takes to get the consent signed. (b) Dr. Allen told her to do whatever it takes to get the consent signed.
  4. Exxon is a (a) publicly traded company (b) publicly-traded company.
  5. The defendants seek to (a) run out the clock (b) run-out the clock.


Answers: 1. (b)  2. (b)  3. (b)  4. (a)  5. (a)

How did you do?

This quiz is modified from Bryan Garner’s Law Prose lessons. He is a consultant who leads continuing legal education seminars. The answers are correct whether you are a lawyer or a third grader.

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The Danger of Using Humor in Writing

I advocate using humor in writing, even in business writing—when it is appropriate. Used judiciously, it can lighten a fraught situation and relax your readers. The problem is that in writing, readers have only your words to go by.

On the telephone, they have your words but can also hear your tone of voice and inflections, which will help to guide them. In person, the people you are addressing not only have your words, tone and inflections but also your facial expressions and body language. Given the whole picture, it is far easier for them to understand when you are being funny.

In writing, something you state with a humorous intent might come across as sarcastic, snarky or downright nasty, even though that was never your plan.  I advise that if you have any doubts about trying to be funny in a particular situation, play it straight and leave the humor for your face-to-face encounters.

And please don’t signal your attempts at humor in writing with LOL or ;- ).  You want to come across as a professional, not as a 12-year-old.

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