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AFI

 

How TO Prepare an effective email ?

I have seen a large number of people suffer mishaps because they did not understand how to adjust their communication styles to this new medium (email). I wrote this document to try to help people avoid those problems.

What Makes Email Different?

Electronic communication, because of its speed and broadcasting ability, is fundamentally different from paper-based communication. Because the turnaround time can be so fast, email is more conversational than traditional paper-based media.


    Email also does not convey emotions nearly as well as face-to-face or even telephone conversations. It lacks vocal inflection, gestures, and a shared environment. Your correspondent may have difficulty telling if you are serious or kidding, happy or sad, frustrated or euphoric.



    

Thus your email compositions should be different from both your paper compositions and your speech. I wrote this document to show you how to tailor your message to this new medium.

Useful Subject Lines

A subject line that pertains clearly to the email body will help people mentally shift to the proper context before they read your message. The subject line should be brief (as many mailers will truncate long subject lines), does not need to be a complete sentence, and should give a clue to the contents of the message.

 

For time-critical messages, starting with URGENT: is a good idea (especially if you know the person gets a lot of email):

For requests, starting with REQ: can signal that action is needed:

If you are offering non-urgent information that requires no response from the other person, prefacing the subject line with FYI: (For Your Information) is not a bad idea

If you are referring to previous email, you should explicitly quote that document to provide context.

Even if there are a fair number of words in your response, you still might need to quote the previous message. Imagine getting a response on Monday to some email that you can't quite remember sending on Friday.

Email Format

There are a large number of different software programs that can be used to read email. It's quite possible that the message you send won't look at all the same when displayed on your correspondent's screen. You therefore have to be careful about how you present your text.

Fancy Text

Some email reading software only understands plain text. Italics, bold, and color changes will show up as control sequences in the text. You might send something like:
Hiya! Hey, I loved the presentation you gave to Jack this morning. Great Job!
but if your correspondent's software can't handle formatting, the message could show up as:

        Hiya!  Hey, I <I>loved<I> the presentation you gave to
        Jack this morning.  <B>Great Job!<B>

You may have a choice of sending the web page as text or as HTML; keep your correspondent's capabilities in mind when you make that choice.

Web Links

Some email reading software will recognize URLs (Uniform Resource Locators, or web addresses) in the text and make them "live". While some software recognizes URLs from the "www.", most software recognizes URLs by the http:// at the front. Thus, if there is a URL in your email, it is much safer to include the http://!
You should also be careful about punctuation - especially periods - right after a URL. For example, take the message

        Hi - The URL is http://www.edufive.com/writings.html.  See 
        if you like it!

The software on the receiving end may think that that last period after the URL is part of the URL. Or, if the software doesn't recognize links, the reader may cut-and-paste too much. Either has the potential to lead to an ugly email exchange, with your correspondent insisting that the page doesn't exist and you insisting that it does. I will admit that it looks ugly, but it causes less confusion if there is at least a space after the URL:

        Hi - The URL is http://www.edufive.com/writings.html .  See 
        if you like it!

People who are cutting and pasting might also select too little. Since HTML files can have either the extension .html or .htm, this can also be a difficult mistake for your reader to catch. To make cut-and-paste mindlessly easy for people, I try to always put URLs on a separate line:

        Hi - The URL is
               http://www.edufive.com/writings.html
        See if you like it!

Yes, the period after the URL is now missing. Yes, this is ungrammatical, but I sure don't want to put it on the next line! I have found it worthwhile to trade grammatical perfection for easier cut-and-paste.

Page Layout

Words on a computer screen look different than on paper, and usually people find it harder to read things on a screen than on paper. The screen's resolution is not as good as paper's, there is sometimes flicker, the font may be smaller, and/or the font may be ugly. Your recipient's email reader may also impose some constraints upon the formatting of the mail, and may not have the same capabilities as your email software.

TECHNIQUES !!

  • USE Shorter Paragraphs

  • SHORT Line Length

The most difficult thing to convey in email is emotion. People frequently get in trouble for typing exactly what they would say out loud. Unfortunately, without the tone of voice to signal their emotion, it is easy to misinterpret their intent.

If you want to give something mild emphasis, you should enclose it in asterisks. This is the moral equivalent of italics in a paper document.
Instead of:

        I said that I was going to go last Thursday.

Say:

        I *said* that I was going to go last Thursday.

Or:

        I said that I was going to to go last *Thursday*.
    

It is difficult for most people to express emotion well in a short message. Fortunately, you can use a number of textual tricks to help convey the emotion:

  • Asterisks (for emphasis)
  • Capital letters
  • Punctuation
  • Whitespace
  • Lower-case letters

Summary

Here, then, is my advice for good email style:

  • Provide your audience with adequate context:
    • Use meaningful subject lines
    • Quote the email to which you are responding
    • Avoid pronouns
  • Be aware of page layout issues. Stick with:
    • Short paragraphs
    • Lines under seventy-five characters long
    • Messages under twenty-five lines long
    • Plain text
  • Find replacements for gestures and intonation:
    • Smileys
    • Asterisks
    • Capital letters
    • Typed-out vocalizations
    • Whitespace
    • Lower-case letters
    • Creative punctuation
  • Be aware of what cues people will use to form impressions of you:
    • Name
    • Domain name
    • Grammar, punctuation, and spelling
    • Formality
    • Signatures