Email Etiquette

One of my pet peeves is malformed and badly written email.

It can be rather frustrating receiving the following style of email:
The system is BROKEN!!!!!!!! This is unacceptable and Need’s to be fixed immediatly……….

Conversely, my favourite emails are often from testers. They tend to be concise, professional, and specific. If something is not working they state when it broke, what the error was, whether they can reproduce it, and anything else related. There are no exclamation marks, capitals, retarded punctuation, or CC-ing everyone in the company. I can usually quickly diagnose the problem, and provide immediate feedback.

While I don’t believe people should spend hours labouring over formulating an email, I do appreciate it if they spend more than 30 seconds and also take the time to proof-read and check for glaring grammar mistakes and other faux pas before clicking that inviting ‘send’ button.

My most frequent grammar gripes:

  • Abuse of apostrophe. An apostrophe does not mean “Oh my God, here comes an ‘s”’. An apostrophe denotes possession, not pluralisation. If you are talking about an object, use it, but if you are just referring to multiple objects leave it out. The exception is its. It does not contain an apostrophe. The abbreviation of it is, written as it’s, does.
  • Diarrhoetic use of full-stop. A pause or missing content in a sentence is denoted by the use of an ellipsis. An ellipsis consists of three dots immediately following the word. It is not five dots, neither is it two (unless you are talking about medieval mathematics and need to represent a fourth root). Twenty-one dots are right out.
  • Random capitalisation. The first letter of a sentence, proper nouns and most acronyms use capitals. Any other capitalisation is probably a crime against grammar.
  • Exploitation of exclamation marks. Exclamation marks should be used with caution, and if they really must be used, one will suffice. They are used to draw attention to a sentence. Four exclamation marks will not quadruple the attention I give that sentence. I have not written an email parser that prioritises my email according to the number of exclamation marks it contains. If it really is that urgent, then email is not an adequate avenue of communication.
  • Superfluous, redundant, excessive, unbelievably intolerable use of adjectives and adverbs. Leave them out, they stagnate good communication and make it more difficult to sort out the actual issue. It might appear to be an “intolerable , obvious, massive failure” to you, but chances are to me it is a minor technical glitch in a test environment  quickly remedied by a two second apache reload.
  • It’s Best regards, not cherios, cool bananas, thnx, or rgds. Are you really that busy, that you can’t write regards, or thank you out in full? Cheers, is an acceptable sign-off, but only if you have in fact had (or will have) a beer with me.

And lastly some general etiquette gripes:

  • Please proof-read and spell-check. And then re-read the email you are replying to, to ensure you have answered all points. It is very frustrating to send out two enumerated questions and then only receive a reply to the second. Did you not know the answer to the first? Did you read the first? Should I be talking to someone else about that?
  • Be concise, and enumerate points and questions. In amidst 100 other emails rambling paragraphs will take longer to respond to, and will likely be moved into the ‘todo later’ folder.
  • Use humour and sarcasm with caution. And only with people you know well. And then follow it up with an emoticon : – ) just to be sure that it won’t be interpreted seriously.
  • Avoid CC-ing unless absolutely necessary. CC-ing does not make you look important. Chances are it will make you look like a doofus. CC’d email is rarely read. My managers receive over 200 emails a day; they do not need to be plagued with my day-to-day BAU issues.
  • For best results treat my name as a proper pronoun – ‘Hi Michelle’, rather then ‘Hey michel’ for which I will judge harshly : – )
  • Never, ever, ever say anything in an email that you wouldn’t mind your manager, mother, or clients reading. Forwarding the above email to a colleague with the reply “Any idea what this muppet’s problem is now?” may provide temporary comic relief, but is unprofessional, and will inevitably be accidentally forwarded back to the muppet in question. Not good customer relations. The same applies to ‘reply-all’. It happens repeatedly. A number of times I’ve seen an ashen-faced developer leap out of his cubical and sprint to the IT room because, instead of hitting reply, he hit reply-all, and just made a delightful comment about his (German) boss’ Hitleristic management style.

That is all.

Best regards,

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