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A few more email readings (and a video) to consider

by Steve Krause on September 23rd, 2014

Even though I had on the schedule that we were going to start talking about “How to e-mail a professor” by Michael Leddy at Orange Crate Art here, we’ve already started to talk about that bit. So instead, I want to mention two other pieces that are on the schedule and offer a link to a brief video:

I think “5 Essential Email Etiquette Habits: Write Smart Emails” by Bruce Mayhew is interesting for at least two reasons. First, I think he has some interesting takes on the advice that we’ve all already seen and that can be interpreted as “common sense” (though again, I am here to tell you this is not as “common sense” as you might think). For example, “care about the reputation you are building,” and “don’t send email you write in a meeting or when walking” (and I would add “don’t send email as if it were the same thing as a text”), and “re-read your brief email.”

Then there’s“How Spelling Mistakes and Bad E-mail Etiquette Can Help You Get Ahead,” which is a sort of counter-intuitive article about when bad email might get you ahead. In this brief story, Kevin Roose describes what he calls “strategic sloppiness” and how that might have helped Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel get the “upper hand” in and exchange with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. I would recommend taking this piece with a big grain of salt and to take Roose’s advice regarding the caveats on when to NOT be purposefully sloppy. Still, it’s kind of interesting.

And last, I wanted to share the video that we started talking about earlier in the week:

As the comments on the video make clear, this professor is not talking through his response to a real email and really, this is a”mash up of many poor emails, some common email mistakes and some of my own embellishment compiled into one email.” But I can tell you as someone who has been teaching for a long long time, this isn’t as uncommon as you might think. And it’s kind of funny.

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38 Comments
  1. Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

    I enjoyed the YouTube video! Sadly, I have seen emails like this from fellow students to our professor (group email) and I was shocked every time I opened the next reply or forward.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I think it is sad to realize just how common poorly constructed emails are. I always used to think it was common sense to write properly in emails to professors, but I am alarmed to recognize that it isn’t. I know the video is satirical, but still.

  2. Nijea Wilson permalink

    The article on writing smart emails is something that a lot of people should take a look at. You have to remember that once you hit that send button on an email there’s no taking it back and the impression that you make whether it’s on a personal or professional level is what is going to be stuck with you. The thing that bugs me the most in emails is when someone doesn’t write something in the subject or writes something that has no meaning or reference to anything that I would be able to understand; which is why a lot of my emails get trashed. This article made a lot of other good points such as writing brief, straight to the point emails that the person receiving it would be able to understand what you’re trying to say quickly instead of having to read an unnecessary two page email. Writing an email while in a meeting or walking is definitely a way to end up either hurting by walking into traffic, objects or other people and also a sure way to make typos or to improperly write a sentence that you won’t be able to change. And of course the bonus habit is one of the most important things which was to make sure properly great the person you’re writing an email to. By saying Hello, you start off the communication process in a positive/professional way.

    The article “How spelling mistakes and bad email-etiquette can help you get ahead” was a very interesting read. I always try to stay professional, so I know my response email to Zuckerberg wouldn’t have been anything remotely close to what Spiegel had written in reply to his initial email lol. However my overconfident younger brother seems to do things like this and people seem to love him for it and it always works out in his favor. With reading this article and seeing the examples of the Facebook email and the young man applying to a job and just putting it straight out there that he had no special skills but would work hard, I can definitely see why they would stand out and make an employer want them even more. It caught my attention and I would’ve wanted to set them up for an interview to.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “However my overconfident younger brother seems to do things like this and people seem to love him for it and it always works out in his favor.”

      I don’t want to bring gender/sex into this but…I will. People often expect (socialize) boys/men to have more confidence and are often rewarded for taking more risks. When taking these same risks, women can be seen as being bossy. However, as more women go into the higher ranks of business and government, this is changing (slowly). The same goes for a man who is being polite but is taken as being timid because of the social expectations attached to being male. It’s good to be aware of these sorts of social stigmas, most of which change over time and location (see Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”), and adjust accordingly. I suppose this would go under “knowing your audience” but, as it is an uncomfortable and controversial topic, is not something many may point out.

      • Brian Gardner permalink

        I think you have a very interesting point, Jessica. There is definitely an expectation of men to be confident/risky and for women to not. Often what I see as politeness others see as reluctance, especially in competitive environments.

        My mother has worked in business for several years and talks about instances where she was ignored when trying to point something out (eventually proving her right when a plant is forced to shut down). I doubt she ever addresses superiors informally since males and females alike would naturally look down upon it.

        When I write cover letters and similar pieces of communication, I find myself afraid that my application will be looked at as timid and hesitant. Lately I’ve been focusing on making myself appear much more naturally confident, which will definitely reflect on my success in business.

      • Nijea Wilson permalink

        Hi Jessica, I definitely agree with the fact that men are expected to be confident and directive so it makes it appealing to people and when women do it its looked at as if she has an attitude problem or bossy. I think us women are breaking down those stigmas as I see alot of women moving up the ranks and taking charge.

      • Steve Krause permalink

        Like Brian and Nijea, I agree that’s an important point, Jessica. It’s interesting to notice that issues like gender (and race and class and all kinds of other ways we divide and/or categorize ourselves) surface as issues even in things as everyday and seemingly “common sense” as emails and letter and the like. Again, that’s one of the things about this class: if you scratch at the surface of these kind of boring “professional world” writings just a little bit, you see there are a bunch of interesting and complex assumptions there.

        Besides the gender issue, I also think there’s a cultural difference in this world of “silicon valley” companies and tech start-ups. It’s inherently a lot more brash and “in your face” than a lot of other businesses. So maybe this sort of “strategic sloppiness” works if you’re a tech start-up, but not so much if you’re working for an insurance company or a hospital or doing technical documentation for an auto manufacturer.

      • Justin Trudell permalink

        I think this is a very interesting observation. The one point I would like to add is having a quiet confidence is respected in both genders, while being outspoken and “bash” in the business world is often received poorly for both as well. Plenty of men get thought of as jerks for being this way, but it is a much more negative connotation for women I agree. I think you hear about it being a “successful” personality with men just because there are more men in the high ranking positions, so it’s just a numbers game.

    • Latasha permalink

      Hello Nijea
      I think that impression is everything, your are so right. When sending a email, setting the tone with a polite Hello make the receiver feel inviting and comfortable. It really can make a difference. You can always know if intentions are going to be good or worth understanding by the professional manner in which they’ve written. On a side note, even if bill collectors sent me a more polite email maybe I would feel more obligated to pay them back. A great personal connection in a professional manner is a great way to start a conversation. That’s something that we can both agree with. I too like the fact that the men applying for that job used a tactic that’s rarely used. I guess int the end it got him the job. If I was a manager I would had also giving him a chance. I do however think in my case it depended on how bad I needed the job. I think that bold approach was interesting!

  3. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    In “5 Essential Email Etiquette Habits: Write Smart Emails,” there were a few statements that stood out for me. Under tip 3, the last paragraph suggests calling someone if it is taking you more than a few minutes to write an email, and if you are struggling with being clear. As I mentioned in a comment during Monday’s discussion, it takes me a lot of time to construct emails to professionals. Just because I use more time to write does not always mean I should make a phone call–though, I understand the author’s point.

    Tip 6 mentions using “hello” to start an email. As I expressed Monday, I used to be unsure of whether or not to use hello to open my emails. It was nice to see this tip listed on a second resource, which helps to reinforce its appropriateness.

    Finally, I’m glad to have the video brought up again! One thing that I noticed this time that I had not noticed before is the professor’s note that this message is his “first impression” of the student. I think it is important to recognize that the way we communicate–especially in written forms–gives an immediate opportunity for others to judge us. If we want to be respected in a classroom or professional setting, we have to pay attention to the way we construct messages.

  4. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      Wait. This ISN’T where we’re supposed to post cute kitten videos? My mistake.

      That video snippet was the best thing I’ve seen in this class! I loved it! And the professor makes sooooooooo many great points! I don’t know what the kid who composed the email was thinking.

      Also, to bring up the Snapchat email…Evan Spiegel made a bold, bold, bold move. But, after seeing The Social Network, I’m glad he blew off Zuckerberg. It could have cost him a million kachillion bajillion dollars, but hey, it was bold.

    • Elyse Cawetzka permalink

      I’m SO glad you posted that! That was hilarious and cute. I appreciate what you did there by using the video about the obnoxious and rude email to the professor and use it to prove a point.

  5. Elyse Cawetzka permalink

    I enjoyed the YouTube video but am saddened that the email existed in the first place. I can’t imagine being a professor and receiving an email like that. So much disrespect filled it.

    The “5 essential email etiquette” article was very interesting. The fourth habit stood out to me the most because so often I see people walking and writing on their phone. Whether they are texting or writing an email or updated Facebook, I’ll never know, but because technology is so readily available in our hands, it seems like the ease of writing on the go out weighs the professionalism sending an email from your computer portrays. I know that a lot of times when I receive emails from family members, it says at the bottom of the email if it was sent from their iphone. I have even seen some professors respond with that on the bottom and to me, that is not being all the professional (I’m pretty relaxed and don’t care when it happens though), but when applying for jobs and to employers, it can come across as “I’m out but figured I should reply.”

    I found the article about spelling mistakes and bad email etiquette to be quite entertaining. I understand how the off handed approach to the response to Mark Zuckerberg to give him an edge and make it seem like they are equals and not give Zuckerberg that upper-hand, however, it is a very risky approach. Personally, I would never respond to an email in that way unless it were to a relative or friend that I am close with. The emoticon and “whatever” feeling it gave was a bold move regardless of how it played out. I appreciate the persons cover letter that was sent out and passed through Wall Street. Again, it’s very risky, but intriguing at the same time. I would imagine employers go through and read a ton of generic letters that people write to talk themselves up, but the originality of this particular one set himself apart from all other applicants, and it paid off. Apart of me is intrigued by this article to write a cover letter or email such as these to a potential employer to give me that edge and originality that other applicants wouldn’t have, however, I am having a difficult time coming up with phrases or words in me head that doesn’t or wouldn’t make me come across as incompetent.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      The way the young man wrote about himself in his application was definitely bold. But like you said employers go through so many of the same applications a day and someone stating something like this is sure to stand out and grab their attention. It all depends on the type of employer youre dealing with to know if it’ll stand out in a good way or bad one

    • Steve Krause permalink

      Happily, the email is a “dramatization:” that is, this isn’t an actual email sent by a student, but more of a recreation of an email that combines some of the most common problems/mistakes. And like I’ve said already, I receive emails not far off from this one all the time.

  6. Kourtney Lovett permalink

    I enjoyed both the article and the video but, I think the article was my favorite. I think that the whole idea of strategic sloppiness is a cool idea. I can totally see how it will help people’s e-mails stand out from those that are more bland. However, I think that I am the kind of person that would think it’s too risky to use strategic sloppiness. If i were to try and execute this technique, I think it would sound forced and awkward. If I had a personal relationship with the person that I would be send the strategically sloppy e-mail too then that would be a different story. For now, I think I’ll stick to using proper grammar.

    I hope that the e-mail in the video is at least a tad bit exaggerated. I don’t think I’ve personally ever seen an e-mail that bad. All of the sloppiness in that e-mail was not strategic at all. Overall, the video was very informative. It was interesting to get the perspective of a math professor versus an English professor.

    • Kristen Smith permalink

      I feel the same way about using strategic sloppiness and see it as somewhat risky. I am someone who is usually very formal in emails and feel that attempting something like that would leave me feeling worried about the perception of the reader. I’m in the same boat as you – I think I’ll stick to proper grammar for the time being.

      • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought it would be difficult to effectively pull off strategic sloppiness. I often feel that I’m awkward enough without adding distracting writing to my messages, which often reinforces my need to write properly.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      Kourtney,

      I also loved the article about strategic sloppiness. I felt that the author made a great point and I agreed with pretty much everything he said. You mentioned that if you tried to write one of these emails, it would likely sound forced and awkward. I think that’s important to mention because it reinforces the article’s point that strategic sloppiness is NOT for everyone. I think that it is important to remember that if the strategic sloppiness is not in your character, don’t go for it, because it will probably not work out in your favor.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      Much too risky, in my opinion.

  7. Kristen Smith permalink

    Reading the various articles centered on email etiquette is very interesting, but also somewhat concerning. I have (as I’ve seen others mention) seen the emails to professors that leave me scratching my head, wondering why a student feels it is appropriate to write to a professor in such a manner. Overall, email is something that I’ve always taken time to compose and re-read and the majority of the time, I hit send still feeling like my email isn’t quite right. I can’t think of a time when anyone showed me the “right way” to email different people, but rather I picked up tips and tricks along the way. I definitely enjoyed reading the articles and seeing the suggestions for how to address emails to different people because this a something I have always personally wondered about and struggled with. I feel like these articles and the video are great tools that everyone should take a look at.

  8. Jessica Kane permalink

    The piece by Kevin Roose was interesting but, as he admitted, contained dangerous advice. I enjoy the idea of being purposefully sloppy to gain an illusion of equal footing but feel there is a difference between using shortcuts and grammar issues. I think you can build a good reputation, as discussed by Mr. Mayhew, if you were to correct your email mistakes by rank, only changing which grammar issues that would be most important to understanding the content. Beyond that, I would think consistency, or lack thereof, would contribute more to any reputation acquired through email communications. Peppering in a little shorthand once in a while might have the effect of making the receiving end believe that you are too busy for *them*.

    • Melanie Waller permalink

      I use shortcuts when I’m talking to close friends or acquaintances at work or home, but with everyone else I try to not do that. Occasionally I will throw out the 🙂 and other symbols like that, but not very often. I guess it’s a habit I’m trying to not start.

    • Latasha permalink

      Hello Kristen
      I agree, building a reputation is important to the reader. To leave a great impression you need to address the recipient in a professional way until you gain that re pore to have a more relax conversation. I became more aware of effective ways in writing a email through the many articles we have been reading. Re- reading email before you send them and making sure no grammatical errors aren’t there is important too. The reader need to know that your message is important and the way we do that is by communicating always with a positive and professional manner.

  9. Melanie Waller permalink

    I like the email video and it does bring home a lot about today’s society. As in real life I find that when people talk on the phone they do the same thing. Too many times in the office I have heard my co-worker call another department and just start chatting about some information we need on a patient. I look at them and ask if they are gonna introduce themselves, what department we are in and why they are calling. Again, too many times they respond “Oh yeah” and then semi-properly talk to someone on the other end.
    I’m sure that emails are the same way. Then I like the ones that go into great length to say 2 words. We need to go back to basics when writing any type of email and treat the person on the other end with some respect. I usually am aware of who I am talking to on the other end and talk accordingly (I do use the shortcut language that is in today’s society when on my phone and friends who are at work talking about non-work stuff and I use symbols here also) but I try to not use “slang” in my writing.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      Unfortunately, much to the dismay of my friends, my casual speech is a lot like my writing and I’m not very popular at parties that aren’t about TED talks. 😉

      I do need to work on my greetings as well. “First, the person. Then, the problem” is a mantra I’ve adopted in the past because, as sad as this is, I sometimes forget I’m dealing with a person on the other end of the computer/phone when I’m obsessed with finding a solution. I had forgotten about this mantra until you reminded me with your story about people at your work. Thanks for the memory jog!

  10. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    I actually really liked Kevin Roose’s article and agreed with most of his points. He makes it pretty clear that the bold and “strategic sloppy” type of email is not always appropriate and should only be used in certain situations. I think that Evan Spiegel made the right choice when dealing with Zuckerberg. From what I’ve heard, Zuckerberg is kind of an a**hole, so I think it was necessary for Spiegel to assert a position of authority in the communication.

    Some people might think that Spiegel is arrogant and young and just didn’t care when he sent the email. I’d be willing to argue that he’s a little smarter than that and actually thought this one through. He probably assumed that Zuckerberg expected him to just go 100% fan girl when he received the email, which would put Zuckerberg in control of the communication and situation. Spiegel curtailed that by sending a message that made it clear that he is in control of his product and doesn’t want to be underestimated.

    But, this situation is a peculiar one, definitely not applicable most of the time! Also, loved the YouTube video. I don’t have a hard time believing that professors receive emails like that because I have received some questionable emails from classmates.

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      I definitely agree that strategic sloppiness is bold and very situational. I won’t use it in the business world at first until I have at least had enough experience to know when the right time is. Not to mention, the level to which you can be informal varies, and even toning down formalities a little bit can play off that you aren’t as excited as they think you are.

      The other interesting point you brought up was that Zuckerberg is a jerk. In any medium, you have to be cautious with people you think are capable of manipulation. I always avoid showing enthusiasm to these sorts, since it’s wasted energy and they’ll use it as a form of leverage.

      • Chelsea Idzior permalink

        Brian,

        I definitely agree that you have to be weary of your audience. Different types of people require different styles of communication.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I’ve also heard that Zuckerberg is somewhat of a jerk so he probably deserved that type of reply email and I give Spiegel alot of props for sending it with no remorse lol.

      The young ladies email actually really suprised me. I know professors probably get the weirdest emails but she acted as if she was talking to somebody she’s really close with. I wouldnt think to ever write anything even close to that email to one of my professors.

      • Chelsea Idzior permalink

        I agree that the email to the professor was really strange. I think it is a great example that not everyone is knowledgeable in forms of writing that many of us would consider simple and common sense, like writing an email.

      • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

        The most recent thing I heard about Zuckerberg is that he thinks it’s ridiculous to allow Facebook users to use aliases. And, in response to that, I saw a post listing many reasons why aliases are helpful:

        Someone coming out of an abusive relationship, who doesn’t want to be found.

        Performers who want some peace of mind.

        “My family would disown me if they knew my sexual preference.”

        Here’s a link to the article, if you want to check it out.

        http://www.popculturebeast.com/facebook-aliases-mark-zuckerberg-integrity/

  11. Leah permalink

    Wow!!!!! I find this video very humorous, typical, yet sad.

    I say humorous because although I can’t believe someone would write a professor in this manner on the behalf of missing class for two weeks, I still can believe it in some sense, obviously.

    I say typical because the younger generations entering college are very connected to this shortening words texting style, if you will.

    Lastly, it’s sad because some students don’t have as much knowledge or may even have a disorder that could have something to do with their writing skills. Overall, this example on writing a professor in a email looks as though it came from a freshman.

    One thing that I can say about the Mark Zuckerberg article is that some people aren’t star-struck, and/or simply don’t care who you are, as we can see. In return, Spiegel learned one heck of a lesson. I am almost positive that he will never send another “oh.. so..” casual email ever again. Three billion dollars gone to waste because of way Evan replied to Mark Zuckerberg’s email. Geesh!!

    • Steve Krause permalink

      I have to say though that the kind of emails that are depicted in this video don’t just come from “the young people,” so to speak. I’ve seen plenty of bad emails from my generation or from the older generations as well.

      What’s really important to notice here is the reaction from the professor– and really, that professor could be an employer, a customer, etc. When you receive an email that is full of errors and is as tone deaf as this one, your reaction as a reader is “wow, this person must not know what they’re doing!”

      This is why we started the term by contemplating a bit about rhetoric and genre, about how as writers, it’s more than just following a formula/formatting rules. You have to think about how you are presenting yourself to your audience. If you’re emailing your friend or even a teacher or employer who knows you, these kinds of mistakes aren’t as big of a deal. On the other hand, if your reader doesn’t know you, this matters a lot.

  12. Justin Trudell permalink

    I think the article about strategic sloppiness is brilliant. Obviously, it only applies to certain situations, but I agree with the writer it was a great move. It shows immense confidence in his abilities to develop an app that is good enough to be considered to be acquired by Facebook. I’m sure Zuckerberg has had thousands of emails with similar replies to other people that he received from the Snapchat guy, and this is a way to level the playing field. I thought it was a great way to show it. The one thing I was slightly confused with was when he mentioned being sloppy to confuse people of your intelligence using the examples of replying with “Tx” and not knowing “your” from “you’re.” Which one did he mean was a way to doubt intelligence?

    The 5 Essential Email Etiquette Habits was good. Again these seem like common sense but often when someone points out the importance of what you are doing, it makes you think twice about sending an email. In a world connected with one another as much as we are, your reputation should be considered with every action. Also, how important subject lines are.

    The main theme I see developing with these email tips is to consider the other person. When talking face to face consideration of the other person involved is obvious. When it becomes electronic communication we start to lose the personal consideration of others.

  13. Latasha permalink

    The ” Five Essential Email Etiquette Habits” pointed out ways that you can send a professional message. The first impression is very important and because its important the importance of writing in a professional manner is essential. Every time we interact in a professional ways by being clear, straight to the point and writing a brief message effectively we are going to get positive response back.
    The article about ”How Spelling Mistakes and Bad E-mail Etiquette Can Help You Get Ahead” was pretty interesting. The email from Mark Zuckerberg showed no real intent of interest in Mark meeting with Spiegel. I think that it was funny how people that are billionaires can sometimes get away with being unprofessional. One side of this is they have the money so they don’t they need to impress or be professional, the other way of looking at it was from Spiegak point of view, Its doesn’t matter how much money you having. Being professional was the only way you would get a response out of him. I loved it!!
    The Strategic Sloppiness Approach” was very bold. I think that sometimes writing need to take a twist if you want to be heard but I do agree with those who said it also can backlash.If I was writing a personal statement I don’t I would have used that approach. I think that it depends on the intended people you are trying to reach.
    I enjoyed watching the video on ” Email mistakes and Etiquette”. Wow I can’t believe someone wrote that to their professor. I think that sometime we’re not conscious about whom we are sending messages to. I can see from this example that its very important to know the basic Do’s and Don’t in writing a email. You never want to get the wrong message across that your incompetent like the individual that wrote this email. WOW

  14. Carly permalink

    That email was definitely cringe-worthy. But quickly shifting topics, Kevin Roose’s “How Spelling Mistakes and Bad Email Etiquette Can Help Get You Ahead” was seriously enlightening. When he presented the Snap-chat owners response to Mark Zuckerburg’s email, I was embarrassed for him. But Roose convinced me just how genius that was. And then I started to realize I had actually used the technique of not following the formula for an essay or situations several times, even in a part of my Personal Statement! The hard part really, is knowing how someone will react to it, and when it’s appropriate, like Roose states. That’s why I decided to tread carefully in my Personal Statement after I had crossed that line, and back it up with a lot of other information.

    This was just kind of a bizarre realization to go from embarrassed in a way of speech to “wait… I do that too.” I actually love it! I don’t suppose we can assume Cartmanrulez99 was leveling the playing grounds with his Professor by using such informal language? What a joke. Haha.

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