How Not to Drive Your Friends and Colleagues Crazy Through E-mail

How Not to Drive Your Friends and Colleagues Crazy Through E-mail April 25, 2012

If you use e-mail – and that still includes most of us – you know how helpful it can be. You also know how aggravating it can be. Even with a decent spam filter, you probably don’t need or want to read half of your email, maybe more. I have some friends who hit the “reply to all” button every time. And I have other friends who love forwarding the latest Internet rumors, jokes, etc. So my in box fills up with all sorts of things that distract me from what matters.

Alina Tugend is trying to help. The New York Times recently published one of her articles: “What to Think About Before You Hit Send.” Tugend offers some practical advice for e-mailers, derived, in part, from I’ll give her list and then grade myself.

• Use “cc” sparingly.

A-. I’m careful about this. I hate being copied on e-mails that I don’t need to see, so I try not to do this to others.

• Make one point per e-mail. If you have more than one point, send separate e-mails. (I’ve found this to be true. If you add a second topic to an e-mail, the recipient often fails to notice it.)

C+. I often send e-mails with too many points, but I’m learning.

• Be mindful of your tone. Bend over backward to make sure that things don’t get lost in translation in your writing. Sarcasm is especially dangerous.

B+. I do this pretty well most of the time. But, just yesterday, I sent an e-mail to a friend that was entirely tongue-in-cheek. He wrote back hoping that I wasn’t serious. He mentioned that it’s hard, sometimes, to sense someone’s tone in an e-mail. He’s right. Maybe I should have added a smiley.

• Don’t overuse the high-priority flag. Remember the boy who cried (or e-mailed) wolf.

A+. To my knowledge, I’ve never sent a high priority e-mail that was not very high priority.

• Don’t forward chain e-mails. Don’t forward chain e-mails. Don’t forward chain e-mails.

A-. Sometimes I just can’t help it, but I cut off the endless stack of previous e-mails.

• Use proper grammar and punctuation.

A-. One of my personal quirks. Sometimes, though, e-mail invites a quick answer, like “Yes” or “No” or “Thanks.” l do not appreciate e-mails that use texting abbreviations, if u no what i mean. lol.

My overall grade: A-/B+. I need to work on sending shorter e-mails that focus on one subject. Also, along those lines, I’m working on better use of subjects. So I’d add to Tugend’s list:

• Use accurate and effective subject lines.

So, how about you? Any special quirks? Any beefs you need to get off your chest?

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  • ahendrick

    What’s the rule on using the subject line as the text of the message?  Either the entire message, or what I really don’t like, starting the message in the subject line and continuing into the body of the message.

  • MJ Hertel

        I rarely forward, never to my entire contact list.  And, if I do, I always cut & paste to eliminate all past addresses and markings.
        But, I use e-mail as I would have used letter writing in the past. Of course, I do not send long e-mails to anyone to whom I would not ordinarly write a letter. I do not send personal e-mail letters to a list of people; but to individuals only. I’ve never had a complaint.
        I do sometimes send a joint letter to our children and grands, when I am reporting certain events happening in the family. These are usually short. (and they are usually doctor’s reports on our health, at our ages!!)
        I think it is difficult to etasblish hard and fast rules for e-mail. I think folks should use discretion and common sense in all their dealings. E-mail or otherwise.
        There was a distant in-law member of our family who sent us e-mails and jokes that offended us…both of us. We wrote him and simply asked him to desist from doing so. He did. I have told other people…casual acquaintances, that I do not have time to read jokes and stories by the dozens per day, and that I simply delete them. I try to do so nicely, but they know I mean it.
        If a person wants everyone in the world to know something, put in on facebook or twitter or some other social networking site, that is what they are for; and do not deluge your family and close personal friends with junk mail, and certainly not work colleagues.

  • markdroberts

    Interesting question. I don’t know. But, I agree, I don’t like the “hook” approach. A good subject should tell the reader the core content of the message.

  • markdroberts

    Interesting. Thanks for your comment.