From the Actrix Online Informer May 2008

Writing courteous emails

This article by Dave Thompson appeared in The Press on 22 April. Its advice is excellent. In fact, I wish I'd written it -Ed.
Thanks to The Press and to Dave for permission to use the story.  

Like any communication system, there are basic rules to consider when writing emails.

These days email has become the communication of choice, allowing near-instantaneous communication between people in a society that is fast losing the ability to communicate on a personal level.

Not that long ago, communication was about etiquette, good manners and ceremony while these days there seems to be none of these things. We have all heard the modern stories; people admitting to an affair or being made redundant via email. This was unthinkable a few generations ago. Email is a passive-aggressive medium – you can say what you like without fear of the other person hitting you, or yelling and screaming at you.

Like any communication system, there are basic rules to consider, and, because no-one is really taught how to email, people just copy what their friends or colleagues do. There are dos and don'ts, just like the old school days of learning the correct way to address letters and memos (though back then no-one seemed to know whether to put the address on the left, the middle, or on the right).

In cyberspace, this is called "netiquette", and is vitally important if you want others to think of you as computer literate.

So, for the sake of humankind here is my email guide:

Keep emails brief
As a rule, be brief unless you intend to bore the recipient to tears. Most people use email as a quick means of communication and don't expect to find a message that takes 10 minutes to read. Keep in mind, in cyberspace, people's attention spans are shorter than, um, what was I saying?

Avoid bling
Silly picture backgrounds and smiley faces are out. The last thing people think when they get an email with a sunset background and emoticons blinking all over the place is: "Wow, this person really has their emailing skills together". Most of us think: "How embarrassing".

Not only does unnecessary bling detract from your message, it makes some people physically ill with all that movement.

Clean fonts, please
Avoid coloured text and please, please, please don't use comic sans as your font. This makes people think you just graduated a badly taught community computing class. Users generally don't like reading messages in large, coloured, non-standard fonts. Keep it simple; use standard fonts and colours.

Use plain text
If you have the option to send email in plain text, you should do it – not only is it far more readable, there is less chance of a virus or script hiding in there. Your friends (if you still have any) will respect you for it.

Be discreet
If sending emails to multiple recipients, try to use the group (or list) feature, or BCC (blind carbon copy). This prevents recipients getting messages with a zillion addresses listed at the top. Email lists are great because you can have hundreds of addresses in a list, yet send the mail to just one master address – check your help files on how to do this. The BCC feature sends emails to addresses you put in the To field, but prevents each recipient from seeing who else the message went to. Either of these methods works well, though lists are better for larger groups. One advantage of keeping recipients anonymous is obvious some businesses are always looking for potential clients, and what better (but sad) way to find them than swiping someone else's email database.

No funnies
Forwarding pictures of monkeys doing stupid things might have been funny in 1995. But here's the thing, we've seen them. Sending them around for a zillionth time doesn't make them any funnier.

No heartbreaks
Don't forward those purposely heart-breaking stories of dying kids who can be saved if you forward the message to all your friends because Microsoft will pay a dollar for every email sent. Newsflash – Microsoft, or anyone for that matter, aren't monitoring your emails and, even if they did, they wouldn't be paying money every time you send one.

Do your homework
If you get an email warning you that a new virus is going around, and CNN and Norton say it is the worst one ever – you are part of the problem if you forward it to your friends. Do your homework first; you'll find these messages (like those above) are a hoax.

Clean before forwarding
If you are forwarding a message, clean the text before your message include only what is necessary to keep the thread going. Sending a message with twenty other messages tagged onto it is seen as lame.

It's common sense, really. If you think something should be on this list, send me an email, but please disable those backgrounds and emoticons first.

Dave Thompson runs PC Anytime, a computer services company based in Christchurch.


Copyright 2008 Actrix Networks Limited | Contact: