Email is a wonderful thing. People are communicating with each other with a greater frequency than at any time in history. Time and distance barriers are falling before the advances in email, text messaging, and now videoconferencing. Siblings who barely talked to each other on the phone have become constant email “keyboard pals”. Folks who started out within the comfy confines of email with their family and friends have branched out into public chat rooms, forums, and mail lists. With all this freedom comes responsibility. As a public service, here are some things to think about as you hunt and peck and send. They apply equally to business or pleasure, family or neighbor, friend or foe.
REMEMBER THAT TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS is the email equivalent of SHOUTING. There may be a place to use “all caps” to add emphasis to your point, but if you use it too much, the effect wears off rapidly. Remember - no one likes to be shouted at.
Check your spelling. Most email applications (and even email services within web browsers) have built-in spell checkers. Use them. They’ll help you to communicate more precisely, and are a common courtesy to your reader.
A sentence like “how r u” may work well within the context of a rapid-fire text chat session amongst chat-savvy teens, but how does it come across in a heart-felt letter to a long-lost friend? Remember that no matter how fast you can type it, or how many photos you can attach to it, that it’s still a letter, with a real person on the other end.
Forums and mail lists have become very popular. People with common interests gathering together to exchange knowledge and ideas. Spend any time on a forum and you’ll soon discover that some people write things, say things, that you just know they would never say to another person’s face. Think about the original “Nutty Professor” movie with Jerry Lewis. When you participate in an email forum discussion, do you transform into the overbearing, obnoxious “Buddy Love”? Don’t. Compose everything you write to/about someone as if you’re looking that person in the face.
People take the written word very seriously. Other than the aforementioned capital letters thing, you have very little control over the emotion conveyed behind your words. Remember that once you click SEND, there’s no taking it back.
With that in mind, pause and reflect before you send. Ask yourself: “Is this email appropriate for everyone I’ve addressed it to?” This is important. Never send anything in an email that you wouldn’t be comfortable having the whole world see. They could.
Be brief. Don’t forget simple rules of punctuation. Separate your sentences and paragraphs with a little “white space”. Remember there aren’t conventional indentation tabs in email, so you might consider adding an extra line between separate paragraphs. It’s definitely easier on the reader’s eyes, and helps to organize your thoughts.
Take the time to compose a meaningful, descriptive Subject line, even if you’re just replying to another email. There’s nothing that draws me in to reading an email like a Subject line that says “Re:Re:Re:Re:”. If you’re in the middle of a “threaded” email conversation, you may want to include the pertinent previous chatter for the reader to reference as you expand on your point. That’s fine, just cut out the extraneous stuff.
Speaking of replying, reply promptly. I’m as bad as any with this. Even if you don’t have the time to compose a complete response, drop a quick note that you received their email and a reply is forthcoming. They’ll appreciate it!
© 2004 Peter F. Zimowski