Friday, November 07, 2008

Rick’s Guide to the Use of eMail

1. eMail must either ask a question or convey information. It can do both. If it does neither, do not send it.
2. There must be a compelling reason to send a long email. If the information is complicated, it may need to be long, but edit carefully. Remember, you can send another email on a different topic later. Long means “more than 3 sentences.”
3. Do not send an eMail with more than one person in the “to” field. Similarly, do not assume someone in a cc: field will take action on an email. Multiple “to”s invites ignorage; someone else will respond, and if I don’t, no one can blame me.
4. The subject field should convey information. “FYI” is synonymous with “don’t read this now, but later when you claim I didn’t tell you something, I will remind you later that I did.” Thanks.
5. Read your email before you send it. Spell checkers don’t know the difference between you, your, and you’re. The recipient likely does. I prefer to at least maintain the illusion that I am diligent and have a reasonable command of the English language.
6. If you use the out of office assistant, tell the person you’re forwarding your email to that you have done so before you do it.
7. eMail is forever. You cannot delete or recall any message sent. You can apologize, correct, amend, append, and ask for forgiveness, but you cannot deny. All emails are potentially saved forever in backups and logs you, and no one person, have control over. The courts, however, potentially have control over all of us, and they also get to decide who goes to jail. Questions regarding this power can be addressed to Martha.Stewart@liar.com .
8. Don’t use color, complicated HTML, or stationary. The latter uses unnecessary amounts of disk space. Not all email programs recognize color, or format all HTML properly. Nothing says “I don’t care” louder than writing a form letter.
9. Use the forward button carefully. If you aren’t conveying information or asking a question, the forward button is synonymous with “spam.”
10. At least look at an entire email before you respond. Remember, the entire email may not appear on your screen until you scroll down. You look lazy (or worse) by asking a question that is answered in the very email you just sent. “See below” is a message that says “figure it out for yourself.”
11. Be careful with email distribution lists. Sending someone an email personally, then to a list they are included on really shows you don’t care who you are speaking to. If this is your intention, think twice about what you are broadcasting.
12. Think twice about your cutesy .sig line. Using an embedded graphic means many email programs will display an error, conveying the message “I don’t care if you got all of my message”. A personal political or social message invites an emotional response.
13. Know at least the basics of your email program. Recipient fields may be autofilled from your contacts list, and it is important to verify the exact email address of your intended message. Many people have multiple email addresses. Know what a “bcc” field is before you use it – the recipients will see a message that says the message was sent to “undisclosed recipients.” Your secret is out, I’m afraid.
14. Be very careful when replying, forwarding, and adding external recipients. Know that your internal snarky comments can be forwarded to someone else. And forwarding someone else’s snarky comments to someone else is…disrespectful. If that’s what you intend, be prepared for the consequences.
15. It is OK not to respond to an email. As Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “I would prefer to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”


I have a personal maxim of “never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.” The necessary corollary is that I prefer others not be required to make that choice about me. Do I always succeed? Nah....

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