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Yep. One of the common mistakes I see from students is having nothing at all in the subject line. There's a risk I will delete it as spam.

When I sent my first email, back in the mid-1980's IIRC, I sent it CAPSLOCK. Undergrad administrator, to whom I had sent it, congratulated me on sending it, then explained I was shouting.

I always thought "Please find the attached document X" to be somewhat baroque and wasteful.

Should I start looking around for something? Maybe under my chair?

And why "please"? I get using please when you are asking for something, but a movement of the eye to the attachment is not worthy of a "please", anymore than saying "Please remember to scroll down, should this email not fit on your screen in its entirety". I think at this point people know about attachments.


Also, I'm a fan of not ending an email, unless there is a logical ending statement. It's usually superfluous as the FROM is right there.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-02/the-best-e-mail-signature-is-actually-the-worst

IMO, it's more polite to write your message carefully so that there is a high information/length ratio and baroque phrasing is left out. That takes a lot of work on the part of the sender and respects the receiver's attention.

Thanks, Frances. This is all useful advice.

I have often suggested to my students--especially those who are not using a university email account that assigns them names--to consider carefully what email addresses they use. I once had a student ask me, at the end of a semester, why I never responded to her emails. I asked what her email address was (and I am not making this up; keep in mind that this dates to about 1991 or so, when "interesting" email addresses were considered, well, interesting), and she told [email protected]. I told her I had not opened them, expecting them to be spam of one sort or another.

Also, this advice is something that grad students entering the job market should take to heart.

rsj - I always thought "Please find the attached document X" to be somewhat baroque and wasteful.

My absolute number one pet peeve with email is unnecessary attachments. E.g. when there's a 5 item agenda for a meeting, and people attach the agenda instead of including it in the body of the email. And "please" can come off as bossy - I think that's one reason why people sometimes don't use it.

"it's more polite to write your message carefully so that there is a high information/length ratio and baroque phrasing is left out"

I agree on the high information/length ratio (excessively long emails are my #1 email sin). As an administrator I would encounter some people who would draft long emails that went on and on explaining why it was necessary for every faculty member to do XYZ. To which my reaction is "just tell me what I have to do and I'll do it - don't waste any more of my time than you're doing already."

At the same time, I would argue that it's important to contextualize requests. So, for example "I looked in the course outline, and I couldn't see when the descriptive statistics assignment is due - the other due dates seem to be there, but not that one. Could you please tell me when it's due" is infinitely superior to "Could you please tell me when the descriptive statistics assignment is due?" - which is in turn much better than "When is the descriptive statistics assignment due?"

Nick - one thing that's hard for me to remember - and hard for my students to comprehend - that the meaning of email for me is totally different from the meaning of email for them. In the 1980s, and even the early 1990s, it was this amazingly cool thing and you could keep in touch with people all over the world at any time. There was nothing like it. It was magic. Now email is this boring thing that you have to do for work, and all the cool kids do Snapchat or Instagram or Whatsapp or Whatever.

^^^Yes, contextualizing is often important! Just making curt requests is rude.


Donald - great story!

I don't know if students realize how much profs sort and filter their emails. So, e.g., if I want to check to see if a student has requested an extension, or I want to know how often they've been in touch to discuss their paper, I'll search on their name. If that name isn't part of their email, I won't find the message..

Great post.

One of my pet peeves in the business environment is people who don't include their contact info in the signature line. Often I'll get an email from an associate and there will be a point I want to clarify or follow-up on that can be more expeditiously done by phone then by email. Sure, if need be I can look it up, but how hard would it be to include your phone number in your signature block?

Good advice but it glossed over my biggest pet peeve. If communication is part of your job description your electronic signature must include alternative ways to contact you and this should be attached to every email that comes out of your inbox, in my opinion!

Bob and Christie - totally agreed!

Reads Bob Smith's comment. Feels guilty. Tries to find how to add signature in Outlook. Fails. Feels inadequate.

Nick - are you around at lunch today? I'll drop by and give you a hand.

Frances: thanks. But I'm holed up at home today.

Isn't technology supposed to get *better* over time? It was easy to do signatures in Eudora.

Nick: depends on what version of Outlook you have, but on recent versions,

1) Click on the File tab
2) Click on "Options" on the left-hand ribbon
3) Click on "Mail" on the left-hand ribbon
4) Click on the "Signatures..." button

Or, just type a phrase including "signature" in the "Tell me what you want to do" text box on the top ribbon (recent versions) or in Help (older versions.)

Done it! Thanks Phil. Couldn't find the File tab, but finally found Help ("?").

Nick -

This post: http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2014/08/why-is-business-software-so-bad.html

Frances: yep. And this case exemplifies your old post. We all had to switch to Outlook.

> calling someone "Mrs" when she is a "Professor" is an unfortunate, and avoidable, mistake. It is worth taking time to search for information about a person's gender and title, and use the appropriate honorific (Mr or Ms or Prof).

This goes for more than just e-mail. Prof. Linsay Tedds had a recent-ish blog post about the use of "Mrs." versus "Prof." or "Dr." as a gender signifier in media. Tedds was quite rightly irked.

Majromax - thanks, I hadn't seen that. I have to say, I think the kind of reaction she described is more common in journalism than in academia.

After writing this post, I thought to myself, "Perhaps i should take a slightly less passive-aggressive approach with my students" and told them "I would rather be called Prof. Woolley". They were super-sweet, apologetic, and immediately switched to Prof. Woolley. It's understandable - several of my male colleagues who teach at the same level as I do ask students to use their first names, so the students just figured it was o.k. to call me by my first name too. But I wouldn't expect journalists to necessarily be quite so polite!

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