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Why Emails Are Misunderstood 337

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-thought-it-because-you-were-a-jerk dept.
werdna writes "The Christian Science Monitor has a piece on why it's so easy to misinterpret emails. From the article: 'First and foremost, e-mail lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode meaning well. Second, the prospect of instantaneous communication creates an urgency that pressures e-mailers to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness. Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over e-mail makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict.'"
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Why Emails Are Misunderstood

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  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu@gmai l . com> on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:30PM (#15335315) Journal

    From that article, I agree: "If you're vulnerable to this kind of unintentional prejudice, pick up the phone: People are much less likely to prejudge after communicating by phone than they are after receiving an e-mail."

    But, from the article, I disagree: "E-mail tends to be short and to the point." While e-mail can be short and sweet, I've found it to be all over the map. I've seen e-mail as a freebie for people who expound ad nauseum, and it's (e-mail) ubiquitous presence multiplies the wandering missives. Short and sweet is more typical in business settings (though I've seen epics there, too.)

    Consider the classic following example. Read each sentence out loud, with emphasis on the bolded word.

    • I didn't steal the money.
    • I didn't steal the money.
    • I didn't steal the money.
    • I didn't steal the money.
    • I didn't steal the money.

    I've fallen prey to this. It's too easy to project either your mood, or your opinion, etc. into an e-mail's text and consequently misinterpret the senders intent, message, sometimes to the extent you've flipped their intent 180 degrees.

    Most of the time this is just a nuisance. Sometimes it can be amusing -- a story to share over beer (free).

    It is worth exercising due care though to avoid escalations and huge misunderstandings sometimes creating hard feelings, and in more extreme cases damaging relationships. I learned from a few hard lessons, if after a few exchanges a dialog became testy and began escalation, I'd intervene on behalf of myself and the correspondent by curtailing the e-mail until a quick chat on the phone could reset the tone. That almost always worked.

    (While some use some convention to help make tone and such more clear (e.g., *word*, emoticons, ALL-CAPS, etc.), I've found that to help marginally, and in some cases inflame a tense dialog further when that was not the intent.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:30PM (#15335326)
    is that some are from Nigerian royalty.

    It's really hard to read their broken English. I spent at least 3 days emailing back and forth before I figured how to send them $10000 from my bank account.

    Now, I'm just waiting for the cash to roll in......
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:32PM (#15335340)
    I'm pretty sure that they are so misunderstood because they are composed by such gauche and uneducated knuckle draggers. But it could be because the illiterate morons are allowed to operate computers in the first place.

    I'm pretty sure...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:53PM (#15335519)
      What is email? It is simply text. It is little different than books, newspapers, magazines, letters etcetera. Yet these other media don't seem to have nearly as much trouble being understood. This is because the difficulty and cost in producing these media better restrict access to those that are better educated.

      Better educated people are able to write and clearly convey a point or concept or emotion. They are also able to properly judge when it is suitable to use a one line message and when it is necessary to write three pages of text to accurately convey a point.

      But, the masses that use email seem to lack this basic level of literacy. They generally lack discipline as well as writing ability. Sadly, the problem is only getting worse as instant messaging and SMS text messaging invade popular culture and further erode basic literacy.
      • by skayell (921119)
        Having worked for some very high tech companies where the employees would hardly fit the classification of illiterate or ignorant, I don' think your comment is on the mark. In fact, I would say it is f&*#ing ignorant.

        Books and Newspapers are written by people who are supposed to be good at communications, but often the articles are confusing, misleading, uninformed, biased or just plain wrong.

        The truth is that people are doing the communicating and people are flawed. I believe emails can have all

        • Books and Newspapers are written by people who are supposed to be good at communications, but often the articles are confusing, misleading, uninformed, biased or just plain wrong.
          That's why Jay Leno's Monday shows are so funny.
      • "This is because the difficulty and cost in producing these media better restrict access to those that are better educated."

        That is true (in most cases), but the "difficulty and cost" also result in additional editing and proofreading. Certainly in the case of a book, the text may be read by many people (author, author's friends, collegues, editors, etc.) before going to the publisher.

        Unfortunately, those people do not always understand the author's meaning (e.g. technical writing), so you'll still f

  • by Channard (693317) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:34PM (#15335352) Journal
    People are perfectly capable of writing letters without using smilies and stupid acronyms. At least they used to be able, god knows that the text generation is up to. The problem isn't that there's anything wrong with email as a form of communiation is that people don't think or re-read their mails before hitting send. If you had to click 'send', and then re-read your mail and click 'send' again ten minutes later, there'd be far fewer misunderstandings and a great deal less internet drama.
    • People are perfectly capable of writing letters without using smilies and stupid acronyms. At least they used to be able, god knows that the text generation is up to.

      You are so right. I think it's due to two things:
      1) modern (il)literacy
      2) the immediacy of modern communications
      These combine to make sloppy, poorly constructed communication commonplace and, frankly, good enough in most situations. In the days (e.g. 1800s) when a letter would take a month (or three... or a year) to travel some great distance

  • by JonTurner (178845) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:34PM (#15335359) Journal
    That's why I usually begin my letters with:
    FU U F'ing F'er.

    Such a versitile word. And no confusion!
  • Emoticons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Killjoy_NL (719667) <slashdot@remco.p ... minus physicist> on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:34PM (#15335360)
    This is why I think people "invented" emoticons :)

    Or am I mad at those people >:(

    All these thoughts make me sad :(

    and cry :`(

    Who can be indifferent about these things :/

    I would be ecstatic :D

    Ah well, back to my nintendo (>',')>

  • by joe 155 (937621) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:36PM (#15335372) Journal
    ... is keep e-mails short and to the point, avoid telling jokes, even the old classic "a horse goes into a bar, barman says "what's with the long face?"" because it might be misunderstood... or they might not like your joke (even though it's the best joke ever)
    • by Dunbal (464142) on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:33PM (#15335846)
      what's with the long face?

      Hi. I am the founder of the "Adenoid Hypertrophy" Foundation. I must inform you that adenoid hypertrophy, if left uncorrected during childhood and early adolescence will result in an increase longitudinal and decreased lateral length of the face of the sufferer. This is called Adenoid fascies by doctors, and looks like a "long face". As a representative of the thousands of people who suffer from this disfiguring disease, I must say that we are offended by your reference to "long faces" as if this were some sort of joke. We consider ourselves damaged by your remarks and insist that you retract your statement immediately or face the consequences which may include litigation.
  • by Bananatree3 (872975) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:36PM (#15335373)
    Email is simply a sped-up version of the old fashion hand-written letter. Yes, you coul tell some of the emotions fo the person by the handwriting, but really words on a page are not new, and the issues with it are stil the same. The only new dimension of it is the speed and ease with which it is passed from one person to the next.
    • The only new dimension of it is the speed and ease with which it is passed from one person to the next.

      Depends on what you mean. I think I agree that the difference between email and letter-writing is purely a function of speed and ease, but I don't think the difference is "simple." The care someone puts into writing an email is affected by the fact that the recipient can instantaneously reply and ask for clarification. The same operation with a letter might take days or weeks. An email is not just a fa
  • Rapport (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cytlid (95255) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:38PM (#15335385)
    The article is really good. (Whoa, I read it!). It's difficult to communicate over written medium. But given time, you can become better at it. I actually wrote a customer this morning and used the terms "woops I goofed!". He have built prior rapport, over the phone.

      Email should be one communication tool in your toolbelt. Not the only one. Re-read your email before you send it. See if you can understand it, reading it from an objective point of view. I'm sure editors and authors do this all the time.

      I typically put a bunch of garbage in an email, re-read it, and throw 90% of the garbage out, and am left with two short sentences that get my point across. When I ramble on and on and on, people get bored. (like this post).
  • Um... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GundamFan (848341) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:39PM (#15335398)
    ...Yeah.

    Email is just like IM chat when I am emailing or chating with a friend or coworker I know personaly I often think to myself "this doesn't sound like so and so". When it is someone I don't know personaly that wierdness is not there... because I have no baseline to compare to.

    One thing I do find helps is adding headers and footers to the emails even if it is a quick "good morning So and so" or a "Thanks," before my auto signature(I am not in sales but the same principals used there can apply to many proffesonal settings). The only time I really don't look for things like that is when I know that the person is on a blackberry, and then being overly breif can be forgiven.
  • RTFA and all I have to say that it's been VERY rare that I misunderstood an email. Smileys and such are a very common way people express their feelings and in business correspondence the tone is pretty much standardized. I actually believe that in spoken language one can misunderstand the other's message as well, happens all the time, right? Some day I might feel a bit down and people might interpret my message in a different light. Anyway, I think there's not much news here - besides, what are we going to
  • by RFC959 (121594) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:42PM (#15335424) Journal
    Sometimes the lack of social cues is a good thing. There have been times when I've been irritated at someone and sent them email and realized upon getting their response that they didn't get my irritation - it didn't come across in email, and this was actually a positive thing. Obviously that's a limited case, but it does happen too.
  • by OffTheLip (636691) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:42PM (#15335425)
    "People Suck at Spotting Phishing" that is "Why Emails Are Misunderstood".
  • True, natrually. Even Slashdot posts can contain language and diction which seems haughty and arrogant. It is like the poster is trying to "educate" the less informed. Some people even make alot of spelling mistakes and get flamed for it, and we typically assume that these people are poor-intentioned, even when they use ill expressions to correct the original poster.

    Short of writing like Charles Dickens I don't anticipate a solution any time soon. (Webcam?)
  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu@gmai l . com> on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:48PM (#15335486) Journal

    What makes understanding (and meaning) problematic in e-mail is also well known in AI research. Language, while syntactically specific, grants latitude and license in rule usage and interpretation/extraction of meaning.

    A favorite example of the nuance of true interpretation:

    A long-time foreman of a Nuclear Power Plant was at his retirement party. When asked if he had any parting words of wisdom regarding nuclear power, the foreman winked and said, "Remember, you can never add too much coolant to the core reaction chamber." The story ends with the foreman looking up from his chair on the beach across the bay to see his old plant going up in a mushroom cloud.
    • by Pope (17780)
      Heh, I used the same example above, but I remember it from an Saturday Night Live sketch with Edwin Newman.
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@devinm o o re.com> on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:48PM (#15335487) Homepage Journal
    The graphic on the side says that perhaps just over 1/2 of emails are understood + interpreted correctly, compared with 3/4 of phone calls. So about 1 in 4 communications by phone are misunderstood? It's no wonder we are all so stressed out, if 25% of the time you're on the phone with someone, they don't get what you're talking about!
  • by Foo2rama (755806) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:49PM (#15335491) Homepage Journal
    This exact piece of research comes out every year and it is just as earth shattering every time. Thank god that they got it out before the middle of the year and I didn't suffer any anxiety from the delay of the release of this important piece of research. Perhaps since this is written medium did you get the sarcasm?


    Ok kids we got this, yes this issue spawned emoticons, can we move on to more important things like Gizmodo execs and Enzo's cut in half.
  • by Ponga (934481) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:49PM (#15335497)
    Maybe email clients should have a 'Preview' button too, eh?
  • RL (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DimGeo (694000)
    It happens in RL, too, you know. Especially if you are talking with people of the opposite sex. In fact, it happens all the time.
  • wElCoMe bAcK tO 1995.

    Glad to see christian science is keeping up with the times - I found this article very useful. Do you think that it also applies to world wide web chat rooms like Slashdot? :) :->
  • by Zaphod2016 (971897) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:55PM (#15335530) Homepage

    Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over e-mail makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict.

    Awhile ago I was working on a project with a few freelancers. It worked out well, so we continued working together. Everything was roses until we ended up in a really ugly project and the "blame game" started. A day later, this wonderful "team" of ours was nothing but a ghost. The resulting flamewar would make even the most persistant /. troll blush.

    Freelancer != Employee

    Email/IM != Meeting

    I'm not sure why, but it would seem as though people *need* to be forced together into horrible and painful meetings when the time comes to make "tough choices".

    My mistake was in allowing my own anti-meeting bias to cloud my better judgement.

  • by i am kman (972584) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:56PM (#15335533)
    Actually, I've found most emails correctly carry the emotion of the sender - particularly if their very mad or frustrated.

    The problem is people feel much freer to express extreme anger, curse, and belittle people over email than they ever would in real life.

    Look at many of the posts to this website - while some people really are complete assholes, I'd bet a significant fraction of the posts here would NEVER be said in a face-to-face conversation (particularly if someone dares to actually compliment Windows). That's precisely because emails correctly convey emotion that most people won't express in real life.

  • Fighting via email (Score:3, Interesting)

    by From A Far Away Land (930780) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:57PM (#15335544) Homepage Journal
    I had a girlfriend once [no really], that would want to fight over email sometimes. We'd be talking using MSN Messenger, then suddenly if I said something that pissed her off, she'd sign out and start emailing me instead. It was the most annoying thing in the world, especially since Hotmail was broken and it'd take hours sometimes for one of my replies to find its way back to her inbox.

    It was also impossible to end the fight over email, as anything I said always lead to more problems, until I could talk her into getting back on MSN Messenger to talk with me either by messages, or through a voice-call.

    I think email is easy to hide behind and perfect for chewing someone out, but doesn't have a warm fuzzy side to it at all.
  • Work rules (Score:3, Insightful)

    by evildogeye (106313) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:57PM (#15335546) Homepage
    We have a rule at work. If you are going to say something nice, feel free to send an email. If you are going to send something critical or mean, pick up the phone or walk over to the persons desk.
    • Now I have to say that is one of the most sensible rules I've heard about office ettiqute for a long time. I know I've been guilty as much as other people about blowing off steam as email is dead easy. Its hard to be mean to someones face..
  • I'm having a hard time determining if this article was written to be informative, cautionary, or sarcastic.
  • by Chemisor (97276) on Monday May 15, 2006 @12:58PM (#15335556)
    The problem is not with the lack of nonverbal cues, but with people who are easily offended. Such people simply assume that everyone hates them and everything else in the world. Obviously, such mindset leads to interpreting every sentence in the worst possible way, seeing insult in place of irony, personal attacks in passionate arguments, and hatred in the omission of flattery. The email world would be a far friendlier place if everyone assumed goodwill in correspondence instead, choosing to interpret every statement as if it came from a dearest friend, trustworthy and kind, if perhaps sometimes absent-minded. The best way to become friends with any man is simply to start treating him like one.
    • The problem is not with the lack of nonverbal cues, but with people who are easily offended.

      Or intentionally offended...

      I had a sig that was a quote from a co-worker about me: "You're a Mac user... you're left-handed... you eat Miracle Whip... *and* you're Polish? You're not from this planet!" One day some middle-manager type woman came up to me and informed me that my sig was offensive to her, as "eating Miracle Whip" was an offensive and suggestive comment in certain places, and that I had to change it,
      • Sounds like middle-manager woman has a dirty mind.

        You took the safe way out, but you could have just as easily worked up some fake indignation & gone the whole "how dare you suggest... I'm a professional... I should report you" route. Might give her some pause before she gets 'offended' the next time.

        Both are valid options, I just hate giving those people the satisfaction.

        Your story kinda reminds me of the NY Times "scumbag" blowout in their crossword puzzle. First linky from Google: http://www.slate.co [slate.com]
    • The best way to become friends with any man is simply to start treating him like one.

      Dear Mr. Chemisor,

      I like you. We are friends. A certain relative of mine is in need of TEN THOUSAND US DOLLARS ($10,000.00) in order to be able to release from customs a container full of merchandise valued at TEN MILLION US DOLLARS ($10,000,000.00). I have told him about you my good friend Mr. Chemisor and as a friend I know you will help us take this shipment from the customs and in return my relativ
      • Dear Mr.Smith,

        I certainly appreciate your gracious offer of friendship and, according to my philosophy, will immediately start treating you like one. In the name of our newly-forged friendship, I am wondering if you would be kind enough to advance me TEN THOUSAND US DOLLARS ($10,000.00) to rescue your troubled friend and his container. Surely, as a president of a bank, you ought to have no difficulty in procuring these funds and loaning them to me, your dearest friend, would you? In return you will have my
  • This only brings us back to the article about the origin of flamewars we had a few months ago, explaining that flamewars on internet start mainly because people's tone gets misinterpreted, due to the same lack of informations as the summary here talks about (didn't bother reading the article, I will once I post this, I'm not new here anymore).

    In other words, that's not really news, is it?

  • by suv4x4 (956391)
    The things covered in the article are completely new to me. Really! I mean, like, the reason you can be misunderstood over e-mail is the lack of voice expressions and face expression?

    Shit, being a scientist is sure a hell of a complex job.

    I've never EVER read than in thousands of other articles throughout the last 10 years, and it's totally not common knowledge. Honest!
  • Poor Vocabulary? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by miyako (632510) <miyako AT gmail DOT com> on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:09PM (#15335632) Homepage Journal
    I have often wondered if much of the difficulty which arises in written communcation (email, IM, etc.) is due to a general degredation in the vocabulary of the populous. I beleive that my own vocabulary is just slightly above what may have been the average for people born a generation or two before me, but I think that it is vastly larger than that of many of my 20-something peers. Although there may be many causes of this, such as a general decline in literacy, a lack of focus on grammar in schools, MTV, a general trend toward a more streamlined form of english , a conspiracy run by the dental floss industry, Mercury in retrograde-whatever. The result is that by having a smaller vocabulary, the effective resolution of the language is degredated. The more subtle details of language are lost like converting a true color PNG to an 8 bit gif.
    Compare the letters written by- for example- soldiers during the civil war with letters that are written today. It should be a safe assumption that the regular infantry whos letters are oft cited from that era would be average for the time period. In both cases, we are dealing with a form of written communication. While it is perhaps true that letters written before the advent of email were subject to more revisions and were generally more well thought out, the fact is that there is a much larger breadth of vocabulary used in them. I think that if people today were willing and able to use a larger vocabulary they would be able to correspond more effectively and avoid misunderstandings.
    • by maxume (22995)
      First, you mean that the resolution of the language is degraded, not degredated, which isn't yet a word, but has more google hits than makes me comfortable(346 vs. 19 million for degraded).

      You usage of populous completely misses the meaning of the word, it refers to a large population in a given place, not a part of a given population. Perhaps you were being pompous and referring to your less than literate majority, I don't know.

      Also, believe not beleive, subtler is more subtle than "more subtle".

      Sometimes,
    • I manage to sound reasonably intelligent without using big words all the time. My actual vocabulary is quite large, but my working vocabulary is much smaller -- I don't agonize over word choices. If I want to say "The room was dark," that's what I say. I don't say "The interior was black as obsidian." In fact, the former sentence makes more sense -- the latter could be talking about the color of the room, rather than the lighting.

      I prefer to create an effect through content, rather than presentation.

      It'
  • During a Nonverbal communication class while an undergrad I did significant research into both the literature and previously performed experiments on this subjecte and found an alltogether different result. I posted my paper at:t:

    http://www.moderndemagogue.com/index.php?/archives /131-Remediation-Of-Nonverbals-In-Computer-Mediate d.html [moderndemagogue.com]

    The introductory paragraph: Non-verbal communication is undeniably a core part of human interaction. The slightest nod of the head, blink of an eyelid, or ill-time
  • It seems to me that one of the main reasons people misinterpret email content is because the author of said email doesn't know how to write well enough to make themselves understood.

    Written language - the ones I'm familiar with, anyway - contains plenty of constructions for getting just about any meaning across, when used properly.

    Of course, there are also problems on the reader's end. Many people aren't readers - they don't read for pleasure, don't read newspapers, and don't read for professional purposes.
  • by panthro (552708) <mavrinac@gmLAPLACEail.com minus math_god> on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:26PM (#15335779) Homepage

    The conclusions shown in the summary are given as causes of the misunderstandings (anecodotal and experimental) in TFA. I disagree somewhat. Though it is in the main logical to conclude that the problem lies in e-mail not properly conveying all the nuances of human verbal communication, I think the problem is more with the people than inherent limitations in the medium -- in other words, we have to mature into e-mail, it doesn't need to expand for us.*

    1. Lacks facial expressions? Emoticons really do work... especially in block communication like e-mail. It doesn't take long for someone to get used to emoticons as a "second language" of sorts to real-life facial expressions.
    2. Rushed communication? I disagree completely. E-mail, to me, allows me to take my time carefully crafting a message, allowing me to make sure it's worded right and get rid of ambiguities, prejudices, assumptions and errors. In contrast, talking in person often leads to useless circular banter and social faux-pas due to its instantaneous and rushed nature.
    3. Personal rapport? I tend to find e-mail (and other online/text-based) relationships a lot more robust than personal ones, because emotional responses are buffered by the text -- it's a lot harder to get mad at a page of text than a person, generally. Also, in combination with #1, this helps keep things professional and to the point.

    * The article itself basically confirms this by using extant prejudices and other such things as examples of how miscommunications occur -- these are things that we have to work to eliminate, not treat as givens and create solutions around!

  • People tend to use the same style in email as they do in some other forms of electronic communicatin, such as IM, IRC, or the never-ending falmewar that is Usenet. It's not. What TFA is about, is business communication. The same care should go into your email to a business associate as into a physical snail mail letter to the same person. After all, it may get shared on his end, it may get printed out and shoved in a contract file, or even shown to a jury. In the latter instance, do you want it to be s
    • Agreed. People in businesses seem to think of e-mail as somewhere between an informal phone call and a Post-It note in terms of importance, which is really the only reason they have these problems.

  • Sure emails can be mis-read. Anything can be. A better question is: Does the misreading of email so taint their information-passing ability that they're useless? The answer is clearly no. So just live with and try to minimize the frustrations.

    One thing I find that helps is mroe lines per screen. It helps keep the whole thing in prespective, and not jump to immediate conclusions while looking to scroll. A second thing that helps is the use of emoticons [smileys]. When I first saw'em, I thought they

  • In most emails, especially those I get from an international research team, I find that two other missing elements in emails are:

    1. Context - frequently, someone sends off an email, but the subject line references some other topic - they replied to you and changed the topic, but did not change the subject line Re: UDS Extract 1.2 forms to what it should be Kramer SNP Project Request, or they bury the context change in the middle of the text without warning - starting with one topic thanks for fixing the fo
  • How is this much different from getting a letter via snail mail? Same thing: if you know someone, you can interpret what they're writing; if you don't know them, it's much harder.

    And even in a medium where you can hear or see the person, they can still deceive you or you can misinterpret their facial expressions. Communications between two or more people is not something cut-and-dried.

  • First and foremost, [e-]mail lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice.

    That hasn't been much of a problem for some hundred years of mailing. Writing is not a lesser form of communication, it's just different. With enough practice, one can make oneself understood, the way one wants to be understood, not just saying something and hoping the target will be on the same frequency :) Most people think clarity in writing is some natural gift they have but it isn't. Also, there are times - quite freque
    • I agree. I think the problem is not the lack of facial expressions and body language - collectively, "nonverbal cues." The problem, I suspect, is the simultaneous lack of nonverbal cues and the reduction of contentiousness in writing encouraged by the immediacy of the medium. When a letter takes days to reach its recipient, ten minutes of review is a minor effort. When an email takes fewer than a dozen seconds, the number of messages exchanged increases, the length of each message is reduced, and language c
  • I have to say that smileys are not enough.

    I am currently taking a class in American Sign Language.

    They use a surprising number of facial cues to go with the hand signing. For example furrowed eye brows for an open-ended question. This is on top of the regular body langauge, which we are encouraged to include.

    This helps to deal with the lack of voice tone.

    As someone that has unintentinoally come off sounding abrasive via email, I think that the real problem is the speed (as mentioned in the article). O

  • by DrLex (811382) on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:15PM (#15336216) Homepage
    After years of internet usage, I have distilled 5 rules for an e-mail to be understandable for the average person.
    1. Never ask more than 1 question in an e-mail. People will only answer either the first or the last question. If it's really necessary to ask multiple questions, make the mail look like a questionnaire (i.e. put all questions together, bulleted with numbers, with no text in between).
    2. If you ask a question, always put it at the very end of the mail, and don't forget the question mark.
    3. Never try to tell people more than 1 important thing in an e-mail.
    4. Never try to tell people an important thing and ask an important question in the same e-mail. They will most likely only read the important thing and forget about the question, even if you follow rule 2.
    5. Keep your e-mails so short that it's actually impossible to tell anything useful, but if you try to explain it properly it will be too long anyway to fit in the average person's attention span, and people will even understand less than from the too short mail.
    Only if you really know your correspondent well, you can deviate from these rules.
  • I know I'm railing against the wind here, but EMAILS IS NOT A WORD. Just as "mails" is not a word. You sound like a dufus for saying "I'm going to put stamps on five mails for you". Likewise, you sound like a dufus for saying "I'm going to send you five emails".

    Email, like mail, is a mass noun. You send people email.

    The word you're looking for "email messages". Or just "messages".

  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:57PM (#15336598) Journal
    there was a dumbass reading it.

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