ASSOCIATES (vol. 2, no. 1, July 1995) - associates.ucr.edu
Table of Contents
WHAT IS "GOOD" EMAIL COMMUNICATION -or- The Reality of Belonging to a List by Patricia M. Lambirth Reserve Coordinator Folsom Library Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute firstname.lastname@example.org Last Spring, Ed Gillen posted a message to the Library Support Staff List (libsup-l) regarding email and asked how it was handled by the various members of the list. There were many responses and the following article is a summary of all the messages. Although one respondent did point out that there are books available addressing the 'netiquette issues, I do not believe the original posting was intended to develop rules for 'netiquette/etiquette, but rather was a survey of the reality of belonging to a prolific list (in many cases, several prolific lists) while holding down a full-time job. I believe it was also posted in an effort to get individuals who post ("posters") to give some thought to the messages they send to any list. Just addressing the issues of subject lines, length of messages, readability, etc., makes one very aware of how postings are perceived by recipients, and keeping those thoughts in mind may help posters write messages that receive the reception the sender intended. The original question posted by Ed Gillen (5/12/95) was "What do you consider good email communications? There is a lot written about email 'netiquette, but what about good communication skills? Some questions for you to mull over follow": Q. How long should a posting be? Do you stop reading no matter what the topic once you've reached a certain page? A. Most people indicated that anything beyond two screens would have to be really interesting to keep their attention, although everyone agreed that, if the topic warranted, they would keep reading right to the end. Preference for shorter postings was very clearly expressed by respondents. Q. Are shorter paragraphs more effective than longer paragraphs? A. Again, brevity won. However, all recognized that it was often necessary to be lengthy if the topic warranted it. Paragraphing is IMPORTANT, according to the respondents, and some stated that visual enhancements were not only nice, but very necessary for reading onscreen! Liberal use of white space was definitely encouraged. Q. If you ask a question -- where should the question be placed? A. Respondents were quite mixed on this. The general consensus appeared to be that the question should be placed at the beginning, at the end, in the middle, wherever you believed it fit -- the choice was yours. Q. How important is the subject line in relation to deleting the message without even looking at it? A. It was almost unanimous -- subject was VERY important. When a subject was something outside of an individual's area of interest, it was deleted. Not everyone had the option of changing the subject line on a reply, but when the topic of a long-standing thread changed, it was important to indicate that by using the subject line. Q. Do you automatically delete NO SUBJECT because you believe it's someone trying to subscribe or unsubscribe? (I do). A. Deletion of NO SUBJECT seemed to be a 50-50 split. Those who did not delete, did so out of convenience (ease of mail program operation) or curiosity. Q. If you ask an individual a question, what length of time do you give the individual to answer before you start thinking that: a) the person never got it; b) the person got it and is ignoring you; or c) the person got it and I'm being unreasonable in my thinking that, because electronic mail SHOULD be instantaneous, I can expect an immediate response? A. Most members felt that they would not reissue their original posting in less than a week. All recognized that vacations, illness, etc., could prevent the individual from receiving the message. Many indicated that they kept copies of their out-going mail and re-checked it every 7 - 10 days or so, and thus kept track of their unanswered posts that way. Q. How frequently should you check your email? A. All respondents replied that they checked their mail at least once a day. Most people checked in the early morning. Those who were able to re-check later in the day, checked again after lunch, while those who have the opportunity to check more often, also checked before leaving for the day. Q. If you answer an individual's question, should you receive an acknowledgement? A. Most did not feel that an acknowledgment was necessary unless the individual put forth extra effort to answer the question. All felt that a "thank you" was very nice though. Q. HAVE YOU STOPPED READING THIS POSTING ALREADY? :) Just thought I'd get things going on a slow Friday. A. Nobody admitted to stopping before the end of this post. Of course, if they did, they would not know they were supposed to answer! These closing comments raised many eyebrows (figuratively, of course) -- most all wondered what a "slow" Friday was. My personal thanks to Ed for providing the questions above. It certainly gave us all food for thought. I know I will take the comments of the members of the listserv to heart and make every attempt to communicate well and efficiently.