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Vox Pop: Your best "best practice" for email?

Short Subject: Now You're Talking (1927)

prosaic [on email]

Chris Streeter picks up on a thread that I've been thinking about a lot lately (and he's kind to mention the relationship to Inbox Zero).

He reminds us that the etiquette for using a telephone was once well-established enough to earn a place in the encyclopedia:

the encyclopedia told you how to answer the phone. not how to pick it up and dial or how the phone switching system worked, but what to say. it even had illustrations (little susie picking up the phone, announcing her residence, listening attentively, etc.). anyway, the point is, nobody ever set the ground rules for email. nobody ever said, this is what the subject line should cover, this is how many sentences an email ought to be, this is how long you should reasonably expect a person to wait to reply, etc. they just threw it at us and let everyone make up their own rules. of course, everyone will make up their own rules anyway, and that encyclopedia sure did a helluva lot of good with our phone manners, didn't it? but still, the idea that we have never, ever, worked out a set of rules or mores for email is kind of incredible.

I think a lot of people would scoff at the idea of a standard for email communication, and I'll admit that I'm not sure what a truly comprehensive -- or even 80-percent-universal -- set of best practices would look like. But, that, in some ways is the problem.

"Netiquette" was pounded into my head from day one on the 'net, but I'll freely admit I've never been 100% -- at least partly because email was clearly the Wild West from a lot of people's perspective. We've each been free to evolve or fall ass-backwards into an understanding of how email should be used. How would we begin to ensure that any two given strangers could be on roughly the same page about what email is even for?

I doubt this is a problem that has one answer, but I'm intrigued to consider how we might start solving it if it were. So...

The Question to You:

Think about what you’d do if you ran the world. If you had to choose a single best practice for email usage — format, length, subject matter, even when not to use email.
If you could wave a magic wand and put one guideline in place that would be honored by 80% of civilized people, what would it be? Be creative as you like, but remember: it has to be generic enough that it would work for 80% of email communication everywhere.

What should almost everyone start doing differently with their email today?

Scott's picture

Interesting. A lot of dislike...

Interesting. A lot of dislike for html email and long emails here, yet many of these very responses are using additional html code for emphasis (italics, quotes, etc) and are needing a few paragraphs to explain their point.

I personally like html emails, for the same reason I like reading sites like this, and why I like reading magazines, newspapers, books, and PDFs: because the text in them has a variety that helps with me with clarity and interest. It allows the point to be more clearly stated. Sure, if all my emails were "Meet me at noon today", html wouldn't be helpful. But 90% of my emails are for business, where people are giving me quotes, describing products, quoting from other sources, and a host of things that take time to read and need more than ASCII text to be understood. True, you can shoot in the head all the people that use html for colored backgrounds and moving happy gifs. But for most other stuff? Leave html on, please.

As for brevity ("Five sentences only!"), great point. And that goes for every possible media out there (books, mags, blogs...) that has ever been invented. But again, most of my emails aren't "Meet me at noon today." They, just like many of these responses here, require explanation. Clarity? I'm all for it. But I have no problem with someone sending me long emails, especially when it's dealing with thousands of my dollars, or my sis describing how my mom's hospital stay is. Describe away.

Also mehori makes a good point with

“No discussions or arguments by email”

At least the heated arguments.




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