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See also my post Writing E-mails
Imagine a tiny boat afloat on a thrashing sea, water pouring through a gaping hole in the hull.
A sailor is frantically bailing dark, angry water, but no matter how much he scoops, the water line never seems to recede — more waves just pummel him in the face like a particularly insecure middle-school bully.
That, my friends, is our metaphor for the average worker’s e-mail inbox.
Yeah, we know, there are tons of new communication technologies out there, but e-mail still reigns supreme in the worker realm: A recent study even shows that e-mail eats up the most mobile time among Americans.
Which is why we think it’s high time to outline some of the most annoying practices when it comes to business e-mails — practices that might make your compatriots drown themselves in frustration.
Read on to avoid making these 10 mistakes:
Ever get an e-mail like this?
Subject line: MY CLIENT URGENTLY NEEDS TO SPEAK WITH YOU!
Hot tip: When you type in all caps, you’re basically likening yourself to those crazy dudes who yell about the End Times on the subway (who are perhaps a bit subdued at present). Yeah, no one wants to talk to you.
2. Going all kindergarten with your fonts
Remember when LeBron James spurned the Cleveland Cavaliers and joined forces with the Miami Heat, prompting Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to pen a long letter on the team website tearing into James?
Remember what font Gilbert used? That’s right, Comic Sans — aka “The Great Underminer.” Stick to Helvetica, folks, and people will remember your sentiment instead of your poor choice of typeface. (To say nothing of pink fonts and Word Art-like signatures splashed across floral graphics.)
Unless you are supremely stupid, senile or illiterate, there is no real excuse for getting a business contact’s name wrong, because it’s right there in his/her e-mail address. Consider this cautionary tale.
If you’re prone to typos, well, then, that’s what copy-paste is for.
As we have stated in the past — back when we called for a brief break from the smiley — emoticons have reached “STD-like proportions since their inception, spreading from one person to another like particularly expressive herpes.”
OK, we can see the necessity of using a placating “smiley” in an e-mail to a contact who might need a spoonful of sugar to make the “your idea sucks” medicine go down. But nix emoticons from any initial e-mails with new contacts.
5. Overly informal greetings
“Helloz Sar-Sar! Imma tell you about a super rad product that, let’s face it, all of us gurlz should totally peep if you have a burnin’ hot love life but want to avoid burnin’ hot other things (you know what I’m talkin’ about!).”
No one has a strong enough stomach to deal with epistles of this sort on a daily basis. Save the LOLCat speech for when you’re old and gray and shooting off adorable, kitten-packed e-mails to your grumbling grandkids. They can’t fire you for being obnoxious.
Allow me to narrate the internal dialogue of the average desk-bound minion: “Spreadsheets sure have a lot of lines… I’m hungry… I hope no one notices this hickey that Joe from accounting gave me after Happy Hour last night…. I’m hungry… Look! There’s a blue bird outside and it cocked its head at me!”
Get to the point. You have approximately three sentences to cut through said desk worker’s mental clutter before she — Oh, someone sent me a video of a dog hugging a turtle!
7. Unclear subject lines
Do you have important news? Then, by all means, say so in your subject line. Hiding a vital correspondence behind a “Subject Line: Hey” is not doing anyone any favors — except for your competition.
8. Sending too many e-mails in a row
You probably spend, oh, 20 hours per day glued to some form of computer-esque device (soon the machines will destroy us all), which means that when you don’t receive an immediate response to your e-mail, it’s possible to, well overreact — much like a clingy lover waiting for an answer on that “Dinner tonight, then a different kind of spooning?” text.
Don’t be a desperate loser. Wait at least 24 hours before sending a follow-up e-mail, unless it’s an emergency, in which case there’s this handy thing called the phone or, you know, the five-second walk over to your co-worker’s desk. Yeah, we know, real life communications are hard.
9. Clip art
I imagine most of you are intelligent enough to figure out why this is not OK.
10. Not using the right method of contact
Never message a business contact on Facebook. Seriously. Why? Because Facebook is where you go to look at pictures of people from high school when you’re drunk — there’s even a plug-in to prevent you from ruining your social media life whilst whiskey-soaked.
Sending a business-oriented message via Facebook is like wandering into a debauched party and expecting everyone to listen to you when you start talking about sales figures.
If you’re having issues finding someone’s professional contact info, sure, send him/her a message on Facebook or Twitter asking them for that info, but don’t carry on a whole convo right then and there.
Unless you’re looking for dirt on said contact, in which case be sure to send the ol’ message at around 4 a.m., when his defenses are down.
Extract from my book “Technical Writing Skills for Engineers; A practical guide for students, engineers and other professionals writing or reviewing technical documents“, Chapter VII. Tips and More; © Klaus D. Goepel, 2006 – Picture: © zettberlin, www.photocase.com
E-mails are probably the most often utilized, but informal written documents. In today’s information age they are used extensively for all kinds of communications. As they are much more informal, spelling, grammar, punctuation and wording are not as important as in formal documents. Nevertheless, many of the principles described in the previous sections should be applied to e-mails. How you use e-mails is a question of politeness, and it will show your respect for your e-mail addressee.