« Computer Science in Practice | Main | What is Computational Thinking »

Email Netiquette

Can you remember life without email and texting?

BITD B4 the EMSG, we talked, in person or on the phone, and wrote in a language that was readable. Now, most of our communication is done via email and texting. This sometimes includes a new vocabulary and a new dictionary [7, 8].

Communicating on a personal level and communicating on a professional level are two different animals. Many of us use email for professional communications, which stresses the importance of knowing proper email etiquette. I'm sure many of us have, at least once, pressed that SEND button too quickly or received an email that we had to ponder over trying to make sense of its meaning or intent. Email can be very easy to misinterpret. According to research done by Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago) and Justin Kruger (New York University) and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there's only a 50% chance of correctly ascertaining the tone in an email message but people think they have correctly interpreted the tone 90% of the time.

People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they hear the tone they intend in their head as they write. At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations. [5]

I found the following Tips for Writing Emails helpful (and sometimes amusing). How many of these "tips" hit home with you (either as the sender or the recipient)?

1. The subject line: The subject line is the only thing you're sure the recipient will read. "Re: re: re:" is not helpful in this regard. But neither is "Project Update." Be as specific and clear in the subject as every other part of the email [3].
2. Say it up front. What is the purpose of your email? Say it in the first line. Can the reader tell from the subject line and first sentence what you are writing about? If not, why are you insisting that they guess? [1].
3. Call to action. The number one thing that separates a memo, report, or PowerPoint from a novel is a call to action. Does your email ask the reader to do anything? If not, why are you sending it [1]?
4. Assume nothing. Let the reader know what thinking has gone on behind the scenes. And when following up, don't assume everyone remembers everything you've said. If you've got any worries that an acronym, term, or reference is going to elicit a confused moment, just explain it. Are you hiding anything from the reader unintentionally or assuming that your audience has prior information [1]? If so, clarify and explain.
5. Do the thinking. How many times have you gotten an email that says, What are your thoughts? followed by a forwarded chain of messages. That's the writer saying, I can't be bothered to explain my reasoning or what I want you to focus on. When you write, make sure you've explained what you're thinking and what you want the reader to spend time on [1].
6. Share your train of thought. If I know why you emailed me 37 spreadsheets and asked for me to combine them by Tuesday, it allows me to be part of the process rather than feel like a cog being dumped on [4].
7. Delete redundancies. Say it once. That's enough. If you're repetitive, the reader will stop reading and start skimming (Like you probably just did.)[2].
8. Use numbers and specifics instead of adverbs and adjectives. Johnnie is currently way behind schedule on major assignments, is not as clear as Johnnie's science project is 3 weeks late [2].
9. Delete off-topic material. The best emails say one thing and say it clearly. One-subject emails also make it easier for the recipient to file the message once they've taken action, something anyone who uses Outlook to manage tasks appreciates [2].
10. Delete anything written in the heat of emotion. Will this sentence show them who's been right about the project since the beginning? Yes? Cut it [2].
11. DON'T SHOUT IN EMAIL!!! don't mumble in email, either. Avoid writing your message using all upper case or all lower case [6].
12. Shorten. Remember the reader struggling to digest your message on the run. A BlackBerry or an iPhone gets about 40 words per screen. What looks short on your desktop monitor is an epic epistle on their mobile device [2].
13. Give it a day. With time, what seemed so urgent may no longer need to be said. And one less email is something everyone will thank you for [2].
14. Toss useless words. "In fact," "personally," "I think," "actually," "literally" and their like are almost always empty of meaning [3].
15. Don't BCC. Remember that no matter how you send it, email is as private as a postcard slapped to the water cooler. If someone needs to know something secretly, call them and whisper [3].
16. Format. Use bolded headings, bullet points, and numbered lists to allow the reader to scan for your main points [3].
17. Use Paragraphs. Similarly, use blank lines to separate paragraphs. You do use paragraphs, right [3]?
18. Use Spell check. Have it? Use it.
19. Look at your email address. What does it say about you? Are you a sexydude@wherever.com? or mrknowitall@wherever.edu? First initial, last name might be a better option [6].
20. Save the txt abbreviations for your friends.
Remember, you could always use the phone or snail mail. Enjoy your *$ and HAG1!

[1] 4 Tips for Writing Better Email
[2] How to Revise an Email so the People Will read It
[3] How To Revise an Email Revised
[4] Is Your Email Businesslike or Brusque?
[5] The Secret Cause of Flame Wars
[6] Email Etiquette: Why is it Important
[7] E-Mail Etiquette
[8] NetLingo List of Internet Acronyms & Text Message Jargon

* first phrase in this blog: Back in the days before the email messageā€¦
* last sentence: Enjoy your Starbucks and have a good one!

Fran Trees
CSTA Chapter Liaison



Very nice tips here. I will suggest this post to my friends.


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)