Posts Tagged ‘e-mail’

The Science of E-mail

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

When I first started communicating by e-mail, I treated messages like a letter. I started each missive with a salutation, wrote in complete sentences, and closed with my complete name.

Nowadays, e-mail and texting have become so ubiquitous that the conventions of formal correspondence don’t seem to apply. Speed replaces courtesy. With speed comes sloppiness. Most faculty have received e-mails from trainees that begin, “Hey!” Or we have received messages so short and full of abbreviations that they read like hieroglyphics.

A column in Science recognizes that e-mail messages can balance the brevity of the electronic age with the formality of the Victorian Age. The advice gives several examples of how to tailor correspondence to different audiences. Even though e-mail may seem ephemeral, each message can leave a strong impression.

E-Mail Overload

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Alexandra Samuel, a social media maven, has written about her attempt to reach an empty inbox. She did it by using a combination of technology (filters) and prioritizing. Her advice echoes some of the tips delivered in our faculty development seminar series.

Now Samuel is recommending another tactic altogether. She wants to upend the expectation that every e-mail message deserves a reply. It used to be that the burden fell on the letter writer to gather the materials and stamp needed to communicate. With e-mail, she says, the burden shifts to the receiver. So, she is starting a new experiment that will automatically reply to every unsolicited message with a variant of this text:

Due to the volume of email I receive, I no longer personally review every message. If you do not receive a further reply within 72 hours, please assume that I have had to focus on other professional or personal priorities at this time. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

I admit that I like to receive responses to all the messages I sent, particularly when it involves scheduling an event. With that in mind, I think carefully before I send a message to consider if I can answer my question in some other way. The automatic reply may work for someone in high demand, but if you’re the person looking for help, it goes against protocol so drastically that it risks offending.

E-mail Etiquette

Friday, October 15th, 2010

A dean at the University of Missouri has apologized for accidentally broadcasting his response to a student’s e-mail to the entire graduate student listserv. It seems that the student’s original message to the dean was copied to the graduate student distribution list, but because the sender did not have permission, only the dean received the e-mail. When the dean went to respond, however, he hit “Reply All.” The dean does have permission to distribute messages to the listserv, and a private message became public.

The gaffe recalls another e-mail mishap where a history department sent a message to all the candidates who had applied for a job opening there. Rather than hide the recipients’ names in the BCC line, the chair made visible all the applicants–including some who did not want their current employers to know they were looking for new jobs.

It’s easy to see how slip-ups happen. We use e-mail so freely and fleetly that we neglect to edit our messages before we send them out. One solution is to schedule when messages go out.  For instance, in Outlook, after composing a message, click the button that says “Options.” It will show a box of choices. Under “Delivery Options,” you can select the time you want the message to go out. By choosing a time later in the day, you buy yourself a chance to reflect on the e-mail and make changes. You can also use this method to send messages at odd hours, making your colleagues think you’re working when they’re sleeping.