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Many of the people who take advantage of my editing services are concerned that their words might not be communicating the desired message. Sometimes what I find is that their message is simply unclear. Sometimes a poor choice of words changes the meaning altogether. And other times things fall into the grey area of “unintended meanings,” where some readers will see the intended message…and others will see something else altogether.


I recently received an email from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The subject line read: “Join us at the Sexual Harassment of Women event.”

“Huh?” I thought. “The National Academies are hosting an event officially dedicated to sexually harassing women? Is this some kind of bad joke?”

As it turned out, it was not a bad joke—it was a poorly written subject line. The email was an invitation to a lecture about actions leaders can take to prevent sexual harassment of women within their organizations. It was an anti-sexual harassment lecture, not a sexual harassment event!

Does your writing say what you think it says?

This subject line was a great reminder of one of the challenges with writing. You know what you’re trying to communicate, so you just assume that this is what your words actually are communicating. Sometimes, though, this is not the case at all.

How can you avoid miscommunications in your writing?

Because this type of issue cannot be caught by running things through a spelling or grammar check, noticing the problem can be tricky. My recommendations include:

  • Be aware that your writing may have an unintended meaning. Don’t take it for granted that it does not.
  • Watch for multiple meanings. Think about if your words can be taken a different way.
  • Ask someone else to review your writing and tell you in their own words what they think you’re trying to say.
  • Read it three different ways: Out loud, from your computer screen and from a printout. Sometimes hearing or seeing your words differently will bring other meanings out.
  • Pretend you’re not familiar with the subject, and read it from that point of view.
  • Take a break from it and then look at it with fresh eyes.


Kids With Food Allergies, a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), works to improve the day-to-day lives of families raising children with food allergies and empower them to create a safe and healthy future for their children. To ensure that their educational materials are easily understood by as many people as possible, they ask their writers to bring things down to the sixth or seventh grade level. Which is not always easy when discussing medical issues!

You can read some of the pieces that I’ve written for them here, here and here.

What Others Are Saying

"Holy mother of God...this first draft is perfect! Like perfect! It's everything I wanted to say but just couldn't! Thank you thank you thank you Linda!"

Mark McManus
President, DisasterFree