Welcome to the Museum of Unfortunate Emails. This month, the north wing features examples of the subtle art of making oneself understood electronically gone sadly awry. It is here that you may realize that your own email style is so much at odds with the way you communicate in person, you might be tempted to get up from your desk and scoot down the hall much more often.
How many of the following emails do you recognize from your own inbox—and perhaps even from your own Sent folder?
The message conveyed here by Tiberius’ curtness and lack of detail is simple: “Don’t bother me.” You can feel his disinterest in helping out in this rather critical matter; his response is nebulous to boot—does he mean to say that the Carthage situation is dire, or that he’s just too important to emerge from the public baths to look into it? Taking the time to offer up a complete sentence is a common courtesy that lets a co-worker know you’ve thought about the issue at hand and tried your best to respond to it.
If you’re not in the mood to punctuate, the recipient of your email probably won’t be in the mood to give you much credit for being a high school graduate. You don’t want a messy stream-of-consciousness prose poem make people think you’re a bit flighty and unfamiliar with the basic rules of communication, especially when the future of the country might be at stake.
Whoa. Napoleon probably had some good ideas to share in here somewhere, but that unbroken wall of text is more of a bear to read than the Treaty of Amiens. Hit that carriage return early and often in a long passage that will be presented on a glowing screen, and remember that bullet points have been hanging around since the Battle of Trafalgar for one reason: they work.
Okay, okay, Frankie, do we really need your life history attached to the end of every email? You’re getting carried away with your own place in the universe just a little. Remember that your email signature is getting blasted over and over again, and your co-workers may tire of the show quickly. You might want to think about making it modest and keeping its design on the minimalist side.
FDR, sir, ah, did you have anything else you wanted to add? People have a tendency to stop truly reading a message as soon as their mind is caught up by what they perceive to be its most important item. Remember to always absorb and respond to every point raised in an email, if only to note that you need to consider a matter further, or can’t get around to addressing it fully right now.
It’s great that the gang in R & D went to the effort of cutting and pasting information directly into Outlook, but exactly what is a busy astronaut supposed to do with this crazy jumble? Even formatting that looks good to you in an email program can often become an unrecognizable stew when it hits someone else’s inbox, so be careful when transmitting anything that really needs a couple of staples to hold it in place, or better yet, send an attachment (and remember to actually attach it!).
Not that much wrong with this message, right? Until you notice that it was sent without any subject line. This isn’t going to be of much help to Spy2 when he’s going back through his inbox to track down the date he needs to know, or that all-too-important phrase to sneak by security. Make the extra effort to tag your email with a subject line that’s informative and easy to spot in a sea of others, since people refer back to emails all the time after a too-casual first glance. You wouldn’t want to strand a key operative in the middle of the Eastern Bloc without a way to get the blue dossier to Silent Dagger in time for Operation Hailstorm, would you?
Thank you for visiting the Museum of Unfortunate Emails! The gift shop is to your right, the cafeteria is to your left, and parking validation will be handled via email.
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