Email etiquette

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Email etiquette

Post by trolley » Thu Jun 12, 2008 8:06 pm

With nothing better to do, I’d like to rave on a bit. When I was in school that was great deal of emphasis put on the rules around written correspondence. Proper letter writing seemed very important back then and when email came along, I tried to apply or adapt most of those rules. I seem to be in the minority (at least, among the people I deal with). Emails without salutations or valedictions, typed in all upper or lower case, without punctuation, etc just drive me crazy. Even within my own company, I am at odds regarding this stuff. People will send me a three page message which is simply a copy of their back and forth conversation with someone else and a hastily typed “thoughts?” or “can we do this?” at the beginning. Not only is it aggravating, but also it can be damned well dangerous. Many think nothing of just forwarding an email that you have sent them to different people inviting them into the conversation. I never send an email with the assumption that I am only talking to the person that I have addressed it to. My fellow managers think I’m nuts for constantly making such a big deal out of this. I may well be nuts, but this is part of the reason why.
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Re: Email Etiquitte

Post by hsargent » Thu Jun 12, 2008 11:21 pm

It is also important to look at the To: Copy: addresses. It makes a difference if it is a FYI with a CC or addressed to require a reply.

I also do not like the lack of punctuation or all caps.

I read once the breakdown of how communication happens.

With a conversation, only 7% of the communications is based on the words. The balance is body/face expression and speak emphasis.

So Email has only the 7% to properly communicate.

Also all CAPS has been shown to be more difficult to read.
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Re: Email Etiquitte

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jun 13, 2008 7:59 am

John, your posting is really making me feel my age right now: I have the same views as you do regarding the points you mentioned.

There is definitely a generational difference in attitudes concerning etiquette and the written word that I believe is partly the result of the increased social informality during the past half-century in the USA, the UK, and (I assume) Canada and much of the rest of the English-speaking world -- which is a development that in general I welcome.

Several other factors also appear to be in play, including the fact that nowadays many young people never have the need to write a conventional letter. When you had to compose your message neatly on lined paper with a fountain pen (as I was expected to do in junior school back in the late 1960s) there was a certain atmosphere of ritual, mystique and solemnity about the whole exercise that I don't think exists for many of today's email writers.

The sense of authority that the written word once used to convey is thus somewhat diminished, and the crafting of the message is also felt to merit less attention when the writer knows that his or her email will probably not be read or referred to more than once. In the workplace, people are also being increasingly pressured to crank out more work more quickly, so they are less likely to feel they can afford to spend much time polishing their output to the same kind of standard that previous generations applied when composing letters by hand.

The flip side of the informality coin is that many people do not distinguish between informality and being casual to the point of inconsiderateness or laziness -- hence, perhaps, the kind of email whose content is introduced merely by “Thoughts?” or “Can we do this?” Also connected with this is the decreasing sense that there exists, or even should exist, any kind of applicable absolute standard or authority that ought to be deferred to.

None of this is helped by the fact that until our schools begin to treat the composition of emails as a skill worth learning, there will be a substantial grey area in which all kinds of questionable email practices are able to flourish with minimal comeback.

Businesses could play a more active role in creating expectations among their employees of a certain level of email etiquette, but, for various reasons, few of them appear to be doing so. I suspect that many of today's managers have themselves never received much formal training in this area.

Collectively, I think we are still feeling our way here -- and that's putting it rather mildly.
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Jun 13, 2008 9:16 am

I am sure that much of the problem lies in the fact that there are people answering 'letters' who would never have been let near a keyboard in days gone by.

The shorthand-typist would take dictation and put the bosses meanderings into English. Now he meanders on his own.

Fountain pen in Junior School Erik? There's posh! Steel-pen and inkwell me!
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Phil White » Fri Jun 13, 2008 2:25 pm

I assume that fountain pens would be confiscated at the school gates nowadays ... along with the penknife that all boys of my generation used to carry.
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by russcable » Fri Jun 13, 2008 3:19 pm

While I agree with a many of those points, I'd like to point out that the email is just as much (if not more) a descendant of the memo. Email did not invent passing around contracts with "What do you think?" or "See me!" scrawled illegibly at the top. It would be a very odd occurence indeed if memos had been replaced by formal letters when email was invented.

And IMO, the type of eloquent formal letter being eulogized so elegantly was already in great decline (along with fountain pens) prior to any popular usage of email.
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Phil White » Fri Jun 13, 2008 3:49 pm

Yes, Russ and Bob have both got it right.

Much email communication (in business) is internal communication, and this was never extremely formal, being handled generally by memo, circular notifications or phone calls.

Of the external email communication, much seems to me to replace the telephone call rather than the letter. Over the past 5 years or so, the number of incoming business calls I have has dwindled to one or two a week, compared with something in excess of 40 or 50.

On the other hand, Bob is also right. Because every employee now has a PC on their desk, they are potentially representing the company to the outside world through email, faxes and letters, and the formulation of a text is no longer subject to the double-checking that naturally took place when letters were typed in typing pools.

But the area in which Bob's point particularly applies is in the production of certain marketing materials. Formerly the domain of professional copywriters, graphic designers and printers, much marketing material (especially data sheets etc.), particularly for publication on the web, is now produced in departments whose job has never been to produce elegant English (engineering and development departments, for instance). I don't generally hold with the view that standards are declining overall, but I do believe that published texts of all sorts, from simple letters to glossy brochures, are being produced by people who are not stunningly good at it and who are often doing it alongside the job they were actually employed to do.
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:17 pm

Note to self: Lighten up a bit! ;-)
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by trolley » Fri Jun 13, 2008 4:36 pm

Email to self: WTF? Chill bro. OMG, you're farting against thunder. ROFLMAO.
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Tony Farg » Sat Jun 14, 2008 7:04 pm

On the other hand, I have recently discovered the real power, equality, access and speed that emails give one, no matter how they are written.
I have recently had correspondence with members of the European parliament, the Westminster government, the Welsh Assembly governemnt, County Councillors and hordes of mere mortals, most of whom I had not even previously heard, who not only replied to me ( in some cases in print/paper/envelopes) but have actually turned up at meetings I have organised and more. They have no idea who I am, but because of the immediacy of email I seemto get a hearing that I believe I would never previously have had.
Mind you, the subject I have been writing about is one which they all recognise as vote-sensitive. P'raps that helps.
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Jun 14, 2008 9:49 pm

trolley wrote:Email to self: WTF? Chill bro. OMG, you're farting against thunder. ROFLMAO.
OK, I'm an old fart, what is ROFLMAO
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jun 14, 2008 9:51 pm

"Rolling on [the] floor laughing my ass off."
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Phil White » Sun Jun 15, 2008 12:08 am

Purists prefer ROTFLMAO.
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Jun 15, 2008 12:59 pm

Bob said:

Fountain pen in Junior School Erik? There's posh! Steel-pen and inkwell me!
.. how lucky was you then .. thumbnail dipped in tar for me lad ..

.. Tony I didn't notice Buck Palace on your list .. *grin* .. oh that's right She doesn't need to garner votes .. it's a lifetime thing for Her family .. hey lad not like the good old days when a strong lad could challenge young Charlie to a punch-up, winner takes the crown ay ..

.. on the general matter of writing emails I have had to adapt from the formal letter days all through to the present .. but then there always were several layers of formality in letter writing .. even now I have different styles for different occasions .. and even though many people like to think that emails are universal there are still many people who don't have access to .. or choose not to use .. email technology .. in the reports I write on a daily basis I am often required to write the same report for more than one audience and I am expected to change the language to fit the reader .. for me the worst aspect of word processing is not being able to permanetly delete American English from the Language options in Tools .. it returns like the proverbial bad smell time after time to confuse and befuddle the users of Australian English .. oooops .. *reads Eriks message to self .. takes deep breath* .. ahhhhh that's lighter ..

WoZ in Aus 15/06/08
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Re: Email etiquette

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Jun 15, 2008 6:26 pm

Gentlemen, In my elementary school (through 8th grade), at least, it was the wooden pen with replaceable metal nibs along with those beautiful inkwells. And let’s not forget the inkwell monitor – that student whose job it was to go around, open the hinged circular top of those beautiful shiny brass inkwells embedded in the upper left hand corner of every wooden desk (the desks being supported by that beautiful swirled cast-iron metal work, which was, of course, bolted down to the floor – none of the frivolity and chaos of today’s movable kind) and fill them using what looked like a long-nosed metal watering can. No one used fountain pens until the higher grades and the newly invented ballpoint pen was verboten; they were considered to be some sort of cheap gadget – not a serious writing instrument – and were, in the order of things, relegated by our teachers, to lie somewhere between chewing gum and spitballs.

One point I would like to make about e-mail communications with friends and relatives. I think that in this area it has not just been a replacement for phone calls and letters, but in many instances it has created communication where none existed before. I find myself in contact with folks who I never would have sat down and written a letter to or never would have picked up a phone and called. So in this instance, at least, I think that casual communication (with its concomitant nonchalant spelling, grammar, etc.) might be better than no communication at all.
_________________

Ken – June 15, 2008
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