Thursday, September 22, 2005

Email Etiquette

Recently I was sent a link to this email etiquette page by the firm that I consult for. I think that it is very helpful but had a few points of critique I thought I would share.

"11. Don't leave out the message thread." is good advice, but blindly copying entire nested quotes of threads is useless, since the information quickly becomes unreadable. I think it is important to add the following rule:

33. Quote sparingly from the message you are replying to. Snip out redundant text, footers, sigs, etc. However, always leave enough context so that you are not misrepresenting the original author.

And while we're on the topic:

34. Do not top-quote. Put your reply below a relevant quote from the original message. Humans read top-to-bottom, not the other way around.

Here's another efficiency and accuracy enhancer:

35. Link to sources of information rather than copying them. For example, a simple URL to a BBC news story on the web is better than a cut'n'paste job.

I would be stricter about some of the rules here. For example instead of "17. Be careful with formatting" and "18. Take care with rich text and HTML messages" I would simply say:

17. Never use special formatting or HTML. The content of an email should be plain text.

There are only a few points that I disagree with. "16. Take care with abbreviations and emoticons" seems designed for people who never really use email at all. I believe that properly used common abbreviations save time. After all we don't spell out BBC every time so why spell out FYI? Emoticons can help convey contextual info otherwise missing (like humour or sarcasm). However, I do agree they should not be over-used.

Finally I would like to comment on "14. Do not overuse Reply to All." Often it happens that an email is designed to be discussed amongst a small group. The original author might CC it to two people besides the recipient. What is very annoying is when some of those people reply without CCing it back to me, so that I get only some of the thread but not the whole thing. I believe it is a matter of judgement whether a message should be copied around in this way but nonetheless this rule is too cut and dried. Better for group discussions is a wiki. But if email is all you have, don't keep some of your team in the dark.



neanderpaul said...

I recently went from Thunderbird to MSOutlook at work (don't ask) -- it's hardcoded to topquote, without the

> quoted
> text

underneath which I'm used to replying.

Sigh -- a lot of folks just don't see/think about the cruft MSOutlook puts at the bottom of their emails. However, this can make for some interesting reading. I've received lots of messages with stuff almost certainly not meant for me, buried amongst the --- Original Message --- headers etc.

I think it's also worth considering whether or not you were a "public" recipient (not a bcc) of a message before "replying to all."

robin said...

> I've received lots of messages with stuff
> almost certainly not meant for me, buried
> amongst the --- Original Message --- headers etc.

Oh yeah! Scavenge that email! Dredge it up, escavate, repurpose, détourné, melt it down, and throw it all back up again.

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