It used to be that whenever an email from “Carl” showed up in my inbox, I would cringe. “Conceited Carl,” I nicknamed him, for his messages were frequently terse and borderline rude.
It is common these days to correspond by email with people you have never met. Often your first impression is based on the tone and language used in emails. And Carl was someone I didn’t care to meet.
But it so happened I did. And he was nothing like the person I imagined. He was kind, gentle and humorous.
So that got me wondering. In this world of email and text messaging, where facial expressions and voice inflections are lost, how do you make sure you come across the way you wish, and not give off the wrong impression as Carl clearly did?
Guidelines for sending the right message
Don’t use sarcasm — Some people have a difficult time deciphering sarcasm face to face, let alone in an email. Stay away from using it, especially with people you don’t know well.
Choose your words wisely and don’t use jargon. “Your presentation was sic.” (“Sic” is slang for great, but if the reader didn’t know that, he or she would think the presentation was awful.)
Emoticons (the little smiley faces) are OK to use with friends and family, but are unprofessional to use in business emails.
Watch your use of punctuation and capitalization. When you overuse exclamation points, the reader can’t decipher what is important! It makes your message difficult to read!!! WHEN YOU FREQUENTLY CAPITALIZE WORDS, YOU COME ACROSS AS IF YOU ARE YELLING AT THE READER.
If you are sending a sensitive email (such as airing your grievances about your child’s teacher to the principal) write the email, but don’t hit the send button. Let the message marinate for a few minutes or hours and then revisit it. When you reread it, check to make sure you aren’t being overly harsh. This is also a good time to have a family member or good friend read the email to get a fresh perspective prior to sending it.
Remember with email and text, there is no such thing as confidentially. It’s very easy for the recipient to forward your message to others. Use caution in what you write. Even if the person doesn’t intentionally forward the message, it could be read by others who are near the computer screen.
Google has a setting to prevent, ahem, emailing after you’ve had a few too many alcoholic beverages. In the settings menu you can enable “Mail Goggles” which makes you answer a series of math problems to check how clearly you are thinking. Based on your answers, it will either allow the message to be sent, or will save it and tell you, “Water and bed for you. Try again in the morning.”
Use this rule of thumb: “What would my grandmother think?” If grandma would be aghast at your language or subject content, rewrite it, making it more “PG” friendly.
Proofread for spelling and other errors. The slightest typo can cause confusion. My favorite example of this comes from my stepmom. After her good friend died, my stepmom decided to make her wishes known. She sent this email out to her family: “I’m dying I want to be comfortable and have a bed by the window.” As you can imagine, her email set off a big flurry of concern, as she neglected to include a very important word at the beginning of her message: WHEN.
Be wise with what you send, as cyberspace is a vast and infinite place. Once it leaves your computer, there is no retrieving it. If you do realize you’ve made a mistake in your message, immediately send out a corrected version with the word “correction” in the subject line. After all, despite all the technology that surrounds us, we’re human.
— Ask Erin is a feature of Kitsap Week. Have a question? Write Ask Erin, Kitsap Week, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo 98370 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.