January 5, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Exemplary or example & email closings

Posted in email salutations/closings, Exemplary/example at 6:54 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Exemplary or examples of

I saw this phrase in a report recently:

Exemplary Clinical Research Projects: 2011

It preceded a listing of the names of 30 clinical research projects conducted at US universities in 2011. I paused for a moment when I read the title and wondered whether the author intended to use ‘exemplary’ or did he (I knew the author was a man) really mean ‘examples of’ or ‘representative’ or something else altogether. I bet he used ‘exemplary’ as a fancy way of saying ‘examples of.’ This is the bottom line:  ‘Exemplary’ is not a gussied up way of saying ‘examples of.’

‘Exemplary’ means ‘commendable’ or ‘worthy of imitation’; the word has a positive connotation.

[NOTE: I know that ‘exemplary’ can also have a somewhat negative connotation as in ‘exemplary prison sentence,’ but that usage is rare in academic medicine, so I think it’s best not to consider it.]

I think the confusion comes from the definition that refers to ‘exemplary’ meaning ‘illustrative of’ or ‘typical.’ Folks sometimes look at that and mistakenly think that if it’s ‘illustrative of’ then it is  ‘an example of.’ But it’s not.

‘Exemplary’ in this sense means ‘an ideal example’ or an example that ‘typifies’ something. It is the model model (if you know what I mean). It’s not just ‘an ordinary example’—it’s the ‘ultimate example’; it’s the ‘best example.’

All of this goes for ‘exemplar,’ too.

By the way, after I wrote this up, I spoke with the author noted above, and found that he, in fact, had used ‘exemplary’ correctly. He did mean that these were the best examples of clinical research projects completed last year. Oh well, it still is a useful lesson.

Tip 2: Closings in business emails

A reader writes:

I would not have used “Best Regards” to close my email to you if I had known of your aversion to “Regards.” I just did a quick search (feeling a little self-conscious about it) to see if I was using it correctly.  Wow.  The range of opinions on how to end an email are astounding.  I find the international community most interesting—the struggle to get things right when nothing sounds right makes a hard language that much harder.

But now I’m curious about the correct close to a formal communication (I set aside the arguments about whether email is ever formal; it absolutely can be if you’re using it that way).  I know we have options, but I’m out of touch with the nuances.  I assume there are rules, or guidelines, or something.

[NOTE: He is referring to my rant on December 15 http://languagetips.wordpress.com/category/regardregards/ .]

The reader is right—there are a lot of opinions. Are there rules and guidelines? That’s less clear. There seems to be some kind of unanimity that business emails should have formal closings but the definition of formal for a business email is far from clear.

First, do we even need a closing sign off in business emails? While I found conflicting advice about this, my feeling is that it depends.  If I am sending an email to a colleague with whom I am working on a particular project and we communicate fairly frequently, I would say that it is not necessary to have a closing or even your name in the email. With that person, you are really having an email conversation rather than sending a missive. However, if it is someone with whom you rarely communicate or if it is someone with whom you have a more formal relationship, then I would say to use a closing. The same holds if you are writing to a group of people.

By the way, I recently received a business email from a watch company writing to me about a warranty with this closing, ‘One Love.’ I have to say it freaked me out a little bit. I didn’t know what ‘One Love’ referred to. Was it a religious thing? What was the intended innuendo? Was this company-wide or from a rogue employee? From a watch company? From whom did I  get this watch anyway? Definitely freaked out.

I later looked this up on the Internet, and found that according to the Urban Dictionary,

One love refers to the universal love and respect expressed by all people for all people, regardless of race, creed, or color.

And it’s name comes from a Bob Marley song which goes:

“One love, one heart. Let’s get together and feel all right”

Well, that’s a nice sentiment. And I always liked that song. But still, in a business letter? Thus, I came up with my first hard and fast rule for business email salutations: Don’t use a salutation for which the reference is not universally and immediately clear…unless you want to freak someone out. When sending a business email, I would stick with business-like language.

This is some of what I found:

‘Sincerely’ is just right. ‘Sincerely’ is too stuffy for email.

‘Ciao’ and ‘cheers’ are too informal for business.

‘Best,’ at best, gets mixed reviews.

‘Thanks’ is okay if you mean it.

You should always use a salutation, and you should change it each time you correspond with someone, so the recipient will see that you are making an effort.

This last one, to me, is completely insane. Who would have the time to constantly come up with new salutations? And to prove you are making an effort? To me, it just says that you have too much time on your hands, and you need some more work to do.

These are viewed as okay:

Kind regards

Best regards

Warmest regards

I am generally fine with these; however, I don’t want you to get in the habit of using ‘regards’ and ending up using ‘in regards to,’ so I would stay away from them.

Many thanks

Kind thanks

Truly

Many thanks is fine; I am not as comfortable with kind thanks and truly. I’m not sure why—they just seem a little too familiar for business correspondence, and also, they feel a bit old fashioned and tired.

Best wishes

Warm wishes

Thanks again

Best wishes and thanks again work. I’m not sure about warm wishes. How warm do you want to be at work?

I remain faithfully yours

Unless you have a butler, I would eschew this one.

With appreciation

Okay.

In the interests of full disclosure. I use ‘thanks’ and ‘best’ as my closing salutations most frequently. To me, ‘best’ is pretty benign and doesn’t convey any but a neutral message. I have read that some feel that it’s a sort of brush off, but I have never felt that way (and it is certainly not my intent when I use it). And ‘thanks,’ for me, makes sense because I so often want to say thank you, and this gives me the opportunity.

So it seems it all comes down to this: Don’t write anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable receiving and try not to freak out your correspondent, but do be professional, and be polite.

One Love.

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