Before the advent of email most of us, other than sending out cards for special occasions, would write very few letters. If we did write a letter, it was carefully prepared, and considerable thought went into it. Today, with computer access available to most people, we have tremendously increased our amount of written communication, and sometimes fall into a trap. There are seven words that will serve as our guide and help us to communicate more effectively.
Perhaps the first word to consider is “Brevity” – we receive and respond to more mail each day, than we would in a year, before the advent of the Internet. As we became experienced with email, we found certain shortcuts that we would never use in “pen and ink” communications.
Many people simply copy the entire note to which they are responding, and make their comments. Others might lift a pertinent paragraph and respond. This is acceptable practice. Let’s face it – unless you are socializing with a friend, if someone asks a question, they want an answer, and don’t really care if you had rain last night. But, you can be too brief in your replies. I get email all the time, and don’t have a clue as to what they’re referring to.
Criticism, whether perceived or real is probably next on the list. Some people write with a negative style, and while they are truly not being critical, their wording comes across that way. If you are making a suggestion to someone, or reporting a problem, if you expect positive results, be sure to couch your note in positive terms.
Patience – I had a person write me 4 times in one day about a perceived problem. Now, most of us are not sitting at the computer 24 hours a day just waiting to receive email. A person must be given ample time to respond. This may take a day or so, or even longer. When I didn’t “immediately” respond, the notes got nastier and nastier. If you act this way, you may be simply written off as a “crank” or a “pain in the neck”, and never get an answer. Patience pays – and if you do send a reminder, be civil.
Audience – since the web is truly world wide, remember that you may be speaking with a person limited in your primary language.
While you don’t want to appear condescending, your email should be written in short, concise sentences that are easy to understand. Words that have several meanings such as wound, produce or refuse should be avoided.
Morality is always a big issue. What may be acceptable to one person may not be to another. Never use language that is even border line. Many people think that if someone uses words that are not acceptable in “polite” society, you might not know how to express yourself any other way, and be considered ignorant.
Never use a “double entendre”. We had a police chief of a neighboring town use the term “guido” in an internal memo to his staff. To many, the term “bennie” or “guido” simply means a summer resident. But this term was highly offensive to the Italian American community, and he quickly learned to choose his words more carefully.
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Sarcasm – this is always a double-edged sword. While something may be said with the best of intentions, another may interpret it the wrong way. Your best bet is to avoid it. While on the subject, the use of humor has to be done very carefully. What may be extremely funny to you, could be extremely offensive to someone else.
Spam – most people get a number of emails every day, and much of it is unsolicited commercial email, which is immediately deleted.
Always title your note so it doesn’t blend in with all the other junk they receive. The spamsters are becoming more creative in this regard however, so you should probably try to give this a little extra attention.
There are of course many other things, which should be avoided, such as spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and the use of ALL CAPS. Try to couch your communications so you are not guilty of making these basic mistakes. This is especially true if your email is going to multiple people. The anonymity of the web doesn’t always allow us the luxury we enjoyed when all we wrote was with “pen and ink” and knew exactly who would be reading it.
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