Wednesday, August 6, 2008

if i don't answer your email, maybe its your fault

More and more people are becoming email-immune. That is, opting out of email in favor of IMs, Facebook, Twitter and texts. (Don't you long for the days when checking your mail meant clicking a single inbox?) But for many people, email still remains the primary form of electronic communication. And (as you may have noticed) they can get indignant when their emails aren't answered promptly, or (as is becoming a frequent complaint) even at all.

For them, this post:

1. Don't write long emails. What's a long email? Anything over two paragraphs. Last century, when email was new, it replaced hand-held letters which were typically long and newsy in order for the sender to get his moneys worth out of the stamp. When correspondence went electronic, it took a while for many of the conventions of letter-writing to fall away. ( I still recall getting emails with proper salutations.)

Many people who made the switch late in life still tend to email Dostoevsky-length prose. Which is fine. Often scintillating. But not conducive to eliciting a quick response. Because if you write someone a long, heartfelt message, they'll feel that it's rude to respond to you with a just few dashed-off lines--which, unfortunately, is all they really have time for. They'll push your message to a file folder to "think about" while they attend to more pressing matters, which is all other matters, including rebuilding their photo cache.

If you have something important to discuss with someone, make a call. If you have something important to discuss with lots of people, do a blog. (Do not give in to temptation to write a long, ponderous email you'll cc to the world: see below.)

2. Don't cc someone on a message if you expect a response. Sorry to say, most people on your cc list won't even read it. These days, most people apply a triage approach to opening messages, in order to have time to do things besides read email. They figure if you have something to say to them, you'll put their name in the "To" line. Ironically, for this reason Cc's that are Forwarded to a single recipient stand a better chance of being read and responded to.

3. Don't cram more than one subject into a request email. Remember, your message is one of hundreds in an inbox, and likely to be read on a PDA in motion. It will be skimmed, not parsed. An email inquiring about, say, the best public schools in someone's hometown shouldn't also ask her for that empanada recipe.

4. No forwarded jokes. No exceptions. OK,  if you think something is really, really funny, that is honestly worth someone else's time, take a minute of your own time to think up a new subject heading and delete the 879,988 other email addresses in the message body.

You're not guilty of any of the above, and I still owe you mail?--please resend. My spamblocker is ruthless.


Alan Wolk said...

Great post/great points.

From the other side of the fence, I try and respond to email more or less immediately, otherwise it gets forgotten.

Responding with a simple "thanks" to let the other person know you've gotten their email is helpful too.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Good point about the "thanks" email, Alan. Especially these days when system spamhunters are ruthless.