Email Advice from Mark Dammer and Gordon McAlpine, 2007
When to use email:
- Emails are particularly useful for brief, factual information. And for sending an identical message to many people.
- Emails work best when the communication that doesn’t involve a lot of emotion.
- Emails don’t work well for negotiations and conflicts. If there is more than a 50/50 chance that you are going to have to dialogue back and forth, try phoning or personal contact instead.
- If you do try email, and start to feel frustrated or find you have sent 2 or more emails and the goal of the communication is still not achieved, try phoning or meeting.
- Especially when you are feeling emotional or about to write a long email, it is advisable to think carefully about whether it is really the most appropriate form of communication for the situation. Emails cut out all body language (which is normally about 90% of our communication), including tone of voice. They are monologues that do not allow the other party to correct inaccurate interpretations or judgements! It takes much more time to express ourselves in writing than in speech.
- When you have been triggered by something, composing an email can be a good way to let of steam and get clear about your own feelings. But it is often best not to send it. As Marshall Rosenberg says, sharing your judgements about someone never helps them.
How to write a useful email:
The subject of an email message is much more important than many people think. It is what makes both humans and spam filters decide if an email is worth reading. So here are a few guidelines for good subject lines:
Use detailed subjects instead of fuzzy words
- Good example: NFA Council meeting minutes 09-06-2007
- Bad example: your pictures
– Avoid using capitalized words/sentences and special characters like
&/()% in the subject line – both may lead to the message being tagged as
– Emails with empty subject lines are very seldom read.
Whom to address
Check who might be really interested in the information. When replying
to an email check if really all people need the reply. Be aware that
most mail programs have the option to do a simple “Reply” or “Reply to All”.
– Avoid attachments if possible. Things that do not need special
formatting might be better sent in the email body than as an
attachment. People in general dislike attachments because they need to
open the attachment in order to read it while the information in the
main email text is immediately accessible.
– Use common readable file formats for attachments.
Microsoft Word (.doc), Microsoft Excel(.xls), Powerpoint(.ppt),
Adobe pdf (.pdf) are good choices. Apple Works (.cwk) is not a common readable file format – bad choice!
– Always use the full filename with extension – many Mac users
are not used to this, but all other systems need it! Some Mac mail programs can be set up to add the extension automatically.
Good example: NFABudget.xls identifies this as an Excel Spreadsheet.
Bad example: Brochure Update
– Never use special characters /()&%$ in a filename.
Never use the british date format 13/06/07 as part of a filename!
It is better to use European 13.06.2007 or “military” 13062007 notation.
How to write an email text
- Precise and structured texts are easier to read. Write in paragraphs and leave a blank line between paragraphs.
- Use plain text if possible and avoid special formatting, pictures and other bells and whistles in an email.
- When replying to an email avoid “nested quotes” – having the whole email discussion quoted in the mail. The last quote might be enough.
Here is a file containing a nicely formatted 1 page version of this document:
PS John Wragg adds Nov 7th 2014:
- Please be particularly careful what you broadcast by mistake to the whole of a Group such as the Nature Google Group.
- It is not normally necessary to reply to an Advertisement or notice of an event saying whether you are able to attend or not, particularly if you are using Reply to All.
Gordon McAlpine, 6th September 2007.