Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Written Communication Etiquette

We all know that the written word can easily be misinterpreted.

Or do we?

I've lost count of the number of times I've read an email or Facebook message and thought, Are they serious?  Or are they just mucking around?  I work in admin.  Reading and replying to emails is a big part of my job, yet it never ceases to amaze me how blunt some people can be.  Especially when I get emails like this:

Do this.

When these are the kinds of electronic messages I get from strangers, I'll be darned if I want to get them from people I call my friends.

Doesn't this look much better:

Hi Sarah,
Could you please do this.

It only took a few extra words, a few extra keystrokes on the writer's behalf, but it changed the tone of the whole message.  While receiving the first kind of message immediately gets my back up, the second makes me want to do what I'm being asked a lot more.

It's the same with text messages.  I ask someone if they want me to get something for them and they reply:


I think Yes pls would be a much better response, you rude person!

While there will always be many issues concerning written communication (you can't see the person's facial expression etc), that doesn't take the onus off the writer for making sure their tone and intent is as clear as possible.  Here are some tips:

1.  Thou shalt not use caps lock. 
You might think you're making a joke, but if I get a message like this - SARAH, YOU FOOL!!!!!!!!!  - I will think you're angry.  Caps lock looks like you're shouting.

2.  Thou shalt go easy on the exclamation marks
One...two at the very most...should be enough to make your point.

3.  Thou shalt use emoticons, acronyms and abbreviations to show you mean well.
This is an issue I have with baby boomers on Facebook (this really deserves a whole post of its own).  I've noticed many people over 60 don't have much of a clue when it comes to these, and, therefore, most of my 'run-ins' on Facebook have occurred with people in this generation.  Consider the message above:
I've had some people write similar messages to me, thinking it was a huge joke, and I've ended up quite cross and embarrassed by them.  If you're really joking, consider writing it like this:
Sarah, you fool. ;)
The wink (and lack of caps lock and exclamation marks) makes all the difference to the tone.  If I get a message like that from someone, I will assume they are mucking around.  I've come to the conclusion that you can never have too many smileys, winks or LOLs.  Some friends probably think I took way too many happy pills before I typed my message to them, but it's better to receive a message littered with smileys than one with none at all.

Side note: Adding LOL to the end of a sentence does not mean you can be a complete knob to someone and get away with it.  It's like those people who say, "You're offence."  I don't think so, buddy!

4.  Thou shalt add a friendly preamble
Even if your purpose for writing is to get something from the person, it's polite to greet them before getting straight to the point.  Say 'Hello and how are you?' and maybe add a brief comment about the weather.  It's better than getting an email saying blah blah blah, do this.

Aim to make your written word,
Just as you would want it heard.
Go the lengths to make it nice.
Winks and smileys will suffice.

While some will misinterpret you,
You have to think it through.
Be careful with the way you write.
Make sure you don't start a fight.

What do you think is good written communication etiquette?


Meredith said...

Without an exclamation mark in sight, and with a smiley thrown in :-)...
I have just tagged you for some spine poetry writing.
Have fun.

bettyl said...

I, too, am one for courtesy and complete details in writing.
Fortunately for me, I don't have to deal with a lot of that stuff any more. My biggest problem was getting all the info I needed for an informed decision by text from the 16 yo boy. It used to take at least 6 texts before I threatened that there will no decision in his favor unless I have all the info at once! It works quite well now, thank you!

Karen said...

Agree with everything you said.
I have been a bit underwhelmed by some of the emails I've received from Uni students this semester. Plenty of demands, but not a lot of manners...

Mark Edwards said...

GREAT POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Iris Flavia said...

I also often wonder if people actually came into my office and demand something without even greeting if they had to look me in the face... and screaming at me, too.
Happens way over 50%, I reckon.
I think a lot of people just don´t realise that - especially when using an adress that is used by a team - that still a real life person takes their message...