Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Layman's Guide to Office E-Mail

For those entering an office environment for the first time, I offer a brief introduction to professional e-mail communications.

The Care and Feeding of Your Ellipses
All this grammar nonsense can be a great hullaballoo of rules and procedures. Luckily for you there is a short cut that grammarians don't want the public to know about. The secret is thus:
If you are ever in a situation where you don't know how to punctuate a sentence you can use the special "catch all" punctuation: the ellipsis.
While many people have invested a great deal of energy perpetuating the myth that the ellipsis is intended to designate omitted words, the truth is that the ellipsis can also replace omitted punctuation!   This versatile little guy can represent anything writer wants.

Take this sentence:
"I have a party on Saturday, I'm bringing the cake!"
This can easily be rewritten without changing the meaning as:
"I have a party on Saturday… I'm bringing the cake…"
Exactly the same.

Here's another little handy tip big brother doesn't want you to know: there doesn't have to be exactly three periods! Two or four are just as valid, although there is a caveat to this rule: whereas ellipses are three times more awesome than periods, two-dot ellipses are only two-thirds as awesome as their three-dot brethren.  While this is well documented with exclamation marks (more "!" means more emotion) many people seem shy to go beyond 4 or 5 periods. Don't relent to these grammeristas.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel!
There is a office cliché for every situation, and people respect people who can remember long lists of phrases. Never assemble your own words to describe a situation when someone else more clever than you has already done it. Why contact someone when you can "reach out to" them? Why speak with them when you can "touch base" and "knowledge transfer"?  For the uninitiated, here are some phrases which will get you started:
  • "Don't reinvent the wheel"
  • "Where the rubber meets the road"
  • "Drinking the Kool-Aid" (point of order, this should actually be Flavor-Aid)
  • "At the end of the day"
  • "My plate is full"
  • "Low hanging fruit"
  • "Throw under the bus"

Leaving Your Signature
Your email signature line is perfectly correlated to your importance. It should be obvious that the more important you are, the longer your email signature. Imagine the lines on your signature as honorifics of a nineteenth-century lord. That you'll want to describe your position and title (no, they're not the same thing) in the signature is a given. What may not be obvious is that your group's name, as well as the division, and subdivision all earn you caché as well. Your name should be suffixed with all degrees you've ever achieved regardless of how relevant they are to your current profession. Make sure your e-mail address is in your signature, else how will they respond? If you want to be a big deal go ahead and add that second fax number on there, your recipient will be flattered that an important person like you took time to talk to them.

Extra credit:  Include a closing salutation in your e-mail signature like "Thank you!" this way it'll appear on every e-mail you send and your recipients (not understanding how an e-mail client works) will feel thanked! If you're feeling crazy, go a little more informal: "Thanks!" They'll think you're the Fonz!

Reply All
Always use this when replying. The other "Reply" button is there mostly for legacy support and will most likely be removed soon.


  1. I'll leverage this list of best practices and start actioning the things on it! I'm sure it'll empower my enterprise and be a fast track to the blue sky scenario.

    I expect that the takeaway from this post will fast track me in the next all-hands meeting, and the players will call out my proactive way of keeping all my balls in the air.

    And I have you to thank.

  2. Might as well run it up the flagpole.

  3. Thanks for this. I will be sure to leverage these insights in my communications, particularly those related to career pathing. I will also ping my boss with the language now to set expectations that I am an action-oriented employee dedicated to bringing maximum value to my organization. Though, you did forget my favorite professional punctuation - the hyphen (see what I did there?)

  4. Ye gods. Nontechnical people are using 'ping' now? That makes me a very, very sad little geek.

    Though, I'm sure that somewhere before me was a sonar operator grumping, "Ye gods. Those asshats are using 'ping' now? They've never even been on a boat!"

    (PS - I hate to do this, but I had to come edit this comment to tell you my captcha was 'angste'.)