How to Email

So maybe it’s time for my annual rant about how to compose email. I know that some people might suggest that, given how slowly I answer mine, I’m not the best person to be doing this. Sorry.

Be forewarned. The bitterness and crankiness factors in this journal entry are high, and the saracasm factor is moderate.

Point one: An email message is not a telegram.

You do not, in most cases, save money by using fewer words than are needed to complete your sentence. I have a friend back east, a very nice woman I’ve known for years, who sends me email which is virtually indecipherable. She uses shorthand (“u’ for you, “4” for “for”, and “pls” for “please”) almost exclusively. I’m lucky if every third or fourth character grouping is an actual English word. The overall effect is neither cute nor concise. It’s just distracting and annoying.

And, by the way, distinct paragraphs are allowed in email. Really. They are indicated by the presence of a blank line between them. Punctuation is allowed too, and (again) there’s no extra charge for it.

Reference is allowed too, whether it just involves quoting the statement you’re responding to, or just telling the recipient which of the 500 pages of his website you’re discussing. Believe it or not, the one page you found on Yahoo may not be the only one on the site.

Point two: An email message is also not a novel.

While I may read and enjoy every word of a really long email message, there’s a very good chance I will not respond to every item in it. While I’ll try to do so for friends, there’s even less chance that I’ll do so for complete strangers who have just emailed me their entire life stories.

While I appreciate that people feel comfortable enough to do this, it’s intimidating as hell and I rarely have an extra hour and a half to answer a really long email message from someone I don’t really know, even if I want to GET to know them. Start slow and concise, and then build up.

Point three: Email messages should rarely be forwarded.

Especially if they contain jokes I don’t care about, virus warnings about operating systems I don’t use, or charity pitches.

Point four: Context, context, context.

I’ve recieved an awful lot of really abusive email from customers of supermarket chains around the country, pissed off about the bad service they received, etc. Most of them emailed me because they thought this site belonged to their favorite chain. This, depsite the notices on EVERY PAGE stating that the site is not connected with any supermarket chain.

And frankly, I don’t really think Safeway’s website, for example, would have a picture of a Kroger store at the top of each page.

I get a lot of baffling messages on the other sites too. Here’s a reality check: while your Google search for “lesbian strip clubs” just happened to turn up one of my pages which just happned to contain all three words, there’s no reason to assume that I really know where any are. Or care. When I email someone about their site, I’ve usually visited most of it and figured out what it was all about.. Again, the one page you found on Yahoo may not be the only one on the site.

Point five: There is still no such thing as “an email”.

You cannot send me “an email” any more than you can go to the post office to send me “a mail”. There is no such thing, just like there is no such thing as “a foliage” nor “a traffic”. It is not grammatically correct. You can, however, send me some email or an email MESSAGE if you like.

Other email pet peeves?

Note that none of this is to suggest that I don’t like getting email. So feel free