Editor's Notebook

The trouble with email


editorsnotebookIf U R relying on makeshift shorthand to get your message across, it might not be the best thing. I figure I saved about eight seconds last month by typing U instead of you in emails, and R instead of are.

Dumb, I think. My own email style could stand some improving.

How you email employees, co-workers and business associates matters.

The pervasive use of email for business has made the work of writing well even more difficult because it invites—relentlessly—hitting Send before you have thought through, organized, reviewed and even rewritten your message.

While I used to enjoy yelling across a busy newsroom, millennials—the bulk of the workforce—seems to prefer email.

Research shows email interruptions and switching tasks takes a toll on productivity. Some people schedule email and response times, although that’s hard to do. Who knows what’s in the next email? There’s an urge to open them no matter what, right?

In her new book “Writing Well for Business Success,” author Sandra E. Lamb says to work best, email needs to be “brief, focused and complete.” Emails may be informal, but don’t let that “lull you into thinking anything goes.”

“It demands the best skills of business memo and letter writing—because it’s now both.”

Some problems inherent in email

It’s faceless and toneless: This often leads to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

Unnecessary posting: The ease of emailing can result in sloppy communication, requiring more email to clear up previous emails.

Interruptions: Emails can be intrusive, messing with focus, concentration and productivity.

They’re searchable: Whether it’s an email trail that happens to include personal observations about one goof-ball—and it’s widely distributed—or you’ve signed on with Ashley Madison, email can come back to bite you.

LOL, I used the Freedom of Information Act to look at some emails around a recent vote. Some of them are blistering, if not plain cruel. Here’s an excerpt from one:

“I can’t begin to feel [sic] you how disappointed I am….After all, isn’t that what the outraged citizens say they are sick and tired of—business as usual and smarmy politicians? You have the luxury of playing political games because you know someone else will do the heavy lifting for you.”

This being North Carolina, the email ends on a cheery note: “Best to” the recipient’s spouse.

And, of course, I read it all.

Lamb says you can combat email’s shortcomings by examining the purpose of an email.

Why are you writing? Lamb says you should have your purpose clearly in mind before writing and sending an email.

The rule is one email for one topic, Lamb says. “This facilitates accomplishing the purpose, filing, and makes sure each email is complete. It also saves confusion when receiving responses.”

Tone is important, too. An email sent to a colleague about a successful presentation might be casual and celebratory. Of course the tone should be different for a client.

In a way, emails are everyone’s in-basket. One of the biggest complaints, Lamb says, is that so many emails are unnecessary.

“If there’s something you should know, or if you have a question you can answer yourself by reviewing emails without interrupting someone, do it. Don’t add more fodder to an already overloaded inbox.”


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