Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Communicating online: email

I came across this hilarious comic: If you do this in an email, I hate you at The Oatmeal a couple years ago, and popped it in a draft blog post thinking I'd gradually compile a list as I notice things in email sent to me. Here are the items I've accumulated so far, offered in the form of advice. There's probably nothing new, and I don't hate you :-), but sometimes reminders can be a good thing! Also, many of these habits jump out at me because I have a high volume of email. I'm sure if you only receive a handful of email messages each day, there are some suggestions you won't agree with.

I have a few items specific to mailing lists that I'll save for a separate post. I'm also working on a list for communicating on the web, and on twitter, and...

envelopes
Envelopes on the side of a delivery truck by PinkMoose
Here goes:
  1. Take the time to write clearly so that you're not requiring the recipient to take extra time to decipher what you want to say. You may be rushed, but it's not appropriate to assume others have more time than you do. 
  2. Don't use "hi" or "stuff" as subject headings. Meaningful subject headings are helpful to busy people. Besides, those messages often get whisked away by spam filters.
  3. Rather than attach a short document to an email message, paste the contents into the body of the email message.
  4. If you're sending a message from a handheld device or on twitter then skimping on punctuation, using all lower case, and inventing abbreviations are all okay. Don't carry these practices over to all electronic correspondence.
  5. Keep to the topic of the email message. If you have other topics to write about, send it in separate messages.
  6. Some people have several email accounts. Don't send your message to all of them. Chances are they are managing their own email and they don't appreciate receiving several copies of the same message.
  7. Don't send a reply to say you are about to do what was requested in the original message. Save it until you've actually done it! 
  8. Don't feel you need to immediately acknowledge every message you receive. This wastes everybody's time: "Thanks! I'm at the landromat so will read your message more carefully when I get home". Wait until you have something to say before you reply. 
  9. If you need to send a very short email message that doesn't require a response, use the subject heading with 'eom' at the end (eom = end of message). That way the recipient doesn't need to open the message to read it. For example: "The link works now. Thx! eom". The key here is that it needs to be short enough that the recipient doesn't need to click on the message subject heading to read it.
  10. Email signatures can be short and also interesting! (I have more to say about email signatures; I think it needs a separate blog post!)
  11. Sending plain text emails is a safer bet than HTML because you can be pretty sure that everyone will be seeing the same thing. 
  12. There are times to include the previous replies in an email message, and times to prune them. You need to use judgment, but in general you don't need to include the entire history of replies.
  13. Decide if you need to use 'reply' or 'reply all'. All this means is don't automatically do one or the other.
  14. Large or multiple attachments might be better transfered using a service like Dropbox or uploaded to Google Docs.
  15. If you are referring to a specific online resource that is relevant to understanding or taking action on your message, include the URL. 
  16. Consider letting the recipient know if you are not expecting a response, or if a response is optional.
  17. Don't offload your email management issues on to others: "Please use my home email address on the weekend because I only check my work email during the week. "
  18. Last one! (for now)...If the purpose of your email message is to schedule an appointment or event, offer enough information or use a tool like Doodle so that a decision can be made quickly and easily, without several replies back and forth.
Do you have anything to add to the list?

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