Don't Confuse Me, Please


EL 236--Writing For The Internet
Bauer & Jerz, Writing Effective E-Mail

The clock is ticking for me to go out into the real world and knowing proper e-mail etiquette is essential. When I read this webpage, I understood how exactly communication is the key to this fast paced world. One of the examples that really hit home to me was the last example follow the number 10:

A colleague once asked me for help, and then almost immediately sent a follow-up informing me she had solved the problem on her own.

But before reading her second message, I replied at length to the first. Once I learned that there was no need for any reply, I worried that my response would seem pompous, so I followed up with a quick apology:

"Should have paid closer attention to my e-mail."

What I meant to say was "[I] should have looked more carefully at my [list of incoming] e-mail [before replying]," but I could tell from my colleague's terse reply that she had interpreted it as if I was criticizing her.

If I hadn't responded so quickly to the first message, I would have saved myself the time I spent writing a long answer to an obsolete question. If I hadn't responded so quickly to the second message, I might not have alienated the person I had been so eager to help.

A simple misunderstanding had caused an enormous rift. And within the professional and acedemic world, the last thing you need is a misunderstanding. These tips seem to go back to the Lewin article. One has to know the rules and stick to them (Even though the technological age encourage some of us to break them). Many people make the most simple mistakes that could cost them there job or there wonderful internship. These skills would definitely improve how, in spite of our comfort, we write properly. Maddie's blog made me understand that people can do a significant amount of damage even if they didn't "want to purposely offend anyone or drop some huge bomb." That usually what happens. I think in order to prevent such travesties, if you are confused on exactly how to word a message...slow down and read out loud. If you are in a rush do it anyway, it would give you less time to re-explain it. I pose this question to you:

Does e-mail really bolster such confusion?


I think you picked an important part of the reading. When I read the example you provide above, I could definitely see myself doing something like that in a future job. Sometimes when you try to help, it doesn't always work out like you had in mind! However, I agree completely that the follow-up message needed to be reworded. I'd feel snubbed too if I were the lackey that needed advice, but I'd have waited until my boss/coworker got back to me to make sure that I'm on the right track before sending out an e-mail that got the people above into a difficult situation. As per your question: I think it all depends on the situation. Writing to someone who's close to you (i.e. friend of family member) will probably know you. They have a greater chance of understanding exactly what you were saying, most likely with the exact tone of voice you were using. Then again, someone professional (i.e. boss, coworker) probably doesn't know you very well and will take things at face value.

Never jump to conclusions. Do not immediately jupy to 'reply' when you see an offensive sentence. There may be further clarification later on in the message. We build email etiquette relationships. We get used to each other's style of wording and responding. But only with time. Respond carefully and cautiously. And do not send a million emails over the course of a minute. Wait for a response. Most people check their email frequently.

I think the worst thing a person could do is to impulse email. Our emotions get the best of us sometimes. Take a minute and back away from the screen before responding. Emails are not for venting-go write in your diary if you're that upset.

The thing that no one has said in the articles that I read is that if you sent "Should have read my mail" to the office gossip, chances are that it has been forwarded to every cubicle when it may have taken all day to do the same thing before e-mail. In a matter of minutes you could theoretically alienate an entire workplace against you just because you did not take the time to think of what you were really saying and sent something fast. I realize that this is a worst case scenario, but it does give the incentive to proofread, and reread a piece of writing one more time after that.
I do think that any kind of writing can cause voluminous amounts of confusion. Take a look at my comment on the course page. I said that I hate captchas and Dr. Jerz left a comment on my blog explaining his reasons for using the captchas. If I had said that I was annoyed by the captchas because they are easy to forget about, I might not have a comment on my blog that embarasses me because I did not take the time to think of what I was saying. Then again, maybe I still would be misunderstood. Who knows?