How do you get your slobby co-worker to clean up his or her desk? (Tribune file photo)

— Kit in Colorado, via Twitter

A: Personally, I like my out-of-office notifications to say I've died. That way when I return a week or so later, everyone thinks it's a miracle. (My therapist says I have a "messiah complex." Whatever.)

But a sensible person, like Tammy Conard-Salvo, associate director of the Writing Lab at Purdue University, encourages workers heading off for vacation to take a more conservative approach.

She said she routinely gets questions about automated out-of-office replies when she does workshops on business etiquette. Apparently Kit and I aren't the only ones who harbor an inclination to leave a funny note. I suppose it's a way of electronically thumbing our noses at the poor souls who have to work while we're off sunning ourselves.

"Humor can be quite subjective," Conard-Salvo said. "We're also seeing an increased usage of email by people who are non-native speakers of English, and humor is often lost on people who speak a different language."

She suggests leaving just the basics: Tell people you're away, when you'll be back and whether you'll be checking messages.

And don't refer people to a co-worker unless you know for sure that co-worker will respond to the person promptly: "It doesn't make sense to refer a writer to someone who will simply say you have to wait until that person comes back."

Purdue's Writing Lab also has a handy website that focuses on workplace writing at

Q: How do I let a co-worker know that that the only reason I haven't beaten them to death with a printer is their candy dish?

— Chris in Ottawa, via Twitter

A: This is a simple cost-benefit analysis, Chris. Any economist would tell you that candy is awesome, and since this is free candy, you're looking at pure benefit, and probably some Snickers. Also, killing is wrong. So steer clear of that.

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