Impressions of E-Mail

There are a few things people do in e-mails that annoy me. I'm not talking about things so irritating as to irk me to the point of incandescence but niggly things that I read and sigh at every time. I'm the kind of guy who thinks that words are important, and your choice of language can convey a lot more meaning than the words intrinsically possess. It's something we all consider when we talk to each other face to face but somehow it gets lost in text. People often say that it's harder to convey subtlety in text, without body language and inflection but I disagree, the rules just change slightly. We've all read books that instil suspense or sympathy or even inflame the passions, clearly the words are not sterile. I'll explain my dislike before giving some examples. It's about value and respect for both the writer and the recipient. When I deal with people face to face I make a judgement based on their sense of confidence and their personal conviction. Particularly in a work environment it is important for me to know from our conversations that you are competent, confident in what you are doing and capable. We all use language to promote these impressions in others when we talk to them; it's supported by our body language, we wouldn't want to appear shy or reserved when it comes to achieving the things we're paid to achieve.

This goes out of the window in e-mails. The examples I give devalue one of the involved parties (most often the sender) and could be read as disrespectful of the recipient. Others are almost pre-apologetic or seem a little too concerned with pre-emptively avoiding any responsibility for the contents. I'm going to limit myself to a few examples of this self deprecation however my first example is a slightly different kettle of fish:

"Just to confirm that..."

The number of times an e-mail conversation starts with this statement baffles me. A confirmation is a response to a query. It does however tie in with the same mindset that spawns these other examples. A slightly more apologetic version might be:

"Just to inform you that..."

The reason these are unproductive ways to open an email is that, to my mind, they are attempting to apologise for their interrupting you, as if the e-mail's contents are unworthy of your time and attention. I think my issue with the second variant is the 'just'. You're providing me with information you feel I should know. It's valuable to me. be forthright and informative and don't apologise for it! So you see, it's an admittedly subtle thing, but it implies a lack of value in either the content of the email or the sender and I can almost guarantee that's a disservice to both.

Lack of complete sentences is a bugbear. While a concise email is always appreciated it simply looks and reads better. Particularly in a corporate environment you never know where the most innocent of e-mails may end up as something gets passed around the office or potentially to clients and customers. That broken little sentence will live in the reply chain, appended and viewable for every future recipient and it reflects badly on you. It shows respect if you take the time to present yourself properly in much the same way as dressing smartly for the office. Give someone a great impression of yourself and their dealings with you will reflect that.

Remember to address me by name if the e-mail has multiple recipients and a part of it is of particular interest to me. Not only is it a simple matter of manners that you'd otherwise apply but often in a business environment we all need to skim through emails for the relevant information and that might be six e-mails back in the chain. A name is instantly recognisable; besides I might actually miss it if it's lost in a page of text with nothing to draw my attention.

Maybe I'm being uptight (I'm ready to admit it) and this probably isn't worth a post all of it's own, but cleaning up my inbox today made me think about it. We tell people a lot about how we think of ourselves and others by how we write to them. It's not a point that should be ignored.