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Correct email technique


It doesn’t matter how old you are. At some point, you will shoot someone an email, whether you’re a geriatric composition instructor that considers electronic communication to be cold and emotionless or a ten year old One Direction fan on Zoobuh!. There are a million ways to do this wrong. I haven’t encountered them all but here are some tips.

  1. For my traditional folks: don’t start with “Dear Name,” and don’t end with “Sincerely, [enter] Name”. It’s trite and inefficient. Also, you don’t need to copy-paste your business letterhead into your email. You’re not applying for a job. You’re not a bank sending out privacy policy updates in the mail. Don’t act like it.
    For more typical emails, start with something more curt or casual like “Name:” “Good morning,” or “Hi Name!” End with something honest but polite like “Regards,” “Good luck.” or “Have a nice day.” and use an automatic signature, whether it’s just your name or your entire business card (don’t overdo it). I know a professor who goes by first initials, starting his emails with “X:” and ending with “B”. This is very rude for a letter, which should express at least some warmth, but it is acceptable for a brief email. People don’t read their emails very thoroughly. You want them to remember what you said, not what you called them.
    If you consider yourself to be a little more exciting, you can color your personal emails with something tongue-in-cheek like, “My dearly beloved Name,” but don’t do that in your work/school emails. Statin’ the obvious heere..
    For your formal/professional/pleasepleasepleasehireme emails, you can trade in “Hi” for “To Mr[s]. Name:” or “To whom it may concern:” or even “Dear sir or madam:” but I personally would still avoid “Dear Name,”.
  2. To those of you who’ve never written a personal or professional letter and taught yourself to use chatting and email in middle school, it’s time to grow up. You have an Enter key. Use it. Unless you’re sending me a one-sentence email (“I saw your note and I’ll take care of it.”), I like to see visual organization.
    Everyone has their own organization style. Some people hit Enter twice, some only do it once. Just do something.
  3. Don’t re-state information unnecessarily.
    For example: If you want responses to be sent to a different email address, say so once in your email. If you’d rather get responses at the other address but you don’t mind getting responses at the sending address, then stick under your signature. If you don’t have a different address, don’t include it at all.
  4. Don’t fail to state necessary information.
    Continuing the previous example: If the other person needs your other email, like for taking names to remove from an emailing list, and you respond with the ‘wrong’ email, include the subscribed email. Don’t say, “please take me off the list serve,” without including the relevant info (and just a tip, it’s “listserv”, not “list serve”).
  5. Dont type liek dis.
    I am not your BFF4eva (“best friend forever forever”?). The likelihood of me becoming your BFF goes down with every sloppily spelled word.
    I get typos. I get weird foreign grammar. Those are totally valid excuses. I don’t mind if you type the way you talk because I am a tolerant person and being able to logically understand the content is good enough for me. Still, 9 out of 10 words should be at least good enough for Stephenie Meyers’s editor, without whom the books would have been ten times the affront to American English that it actually was. My comprehension goes way down when I look at email that fails elementary school level grammar.
    My brain takes longer to register the meaning of “u” than “practicum”. Throw me a five paragraph email with jargon and I’ll skim it, gag at the pretension, but digest the rest nonetheless in seconds. Throw me a 20-word email in caffeinated chatspeak bullshit (‘scuse my french) and I will, with an expression of annoyance and disgust on my face, sit down with Urban Dictionary, summon my talents for deciphering which are normally reserved for grading kid scrawl, and interpret read word by word.
    Periods between sentences and capitalized “I”s, ‘K? It’s not that tough, I promise.
  6. Don’t Type Like This, Either. What is that, A Title? No, it’s the body of the email. Please treat like one.
  7. Re-read your email before sending. Don’t assume the reader knows everything you’re talking about unless you KNOW they’re getting paid over $10 an hour to know everything off the top of their head.
    Since the school year started, I had to deal with a rising inundation of incoherent emails per total email load, plus the occasional just plain weird email. I got this email asking me if I have any questions and I’m wondering why I would have any questions for this kid from who knows where.
  8. Check and re-check to make sure you have the right person.
    The undergraduate office that I work for is named very similarly to a couple other offices on campus, including a graduate office. I don’t really mind forwarding emails but sometimes, I get the response and I have to forward it back to the original sender.
    All things to all people? No kidding.

If I come up with more “Do”s and “Don’t”s, I will add to the list.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/10/14 22:34

    Can I like this a million times even though it’s not on Facebook?

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