Thursday, June 3, 2010

Email Style Guide: Part 1

As someone who spends a lot of time – arguably too much time – reading and writing emails, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are too many people working in the business world who are, quite frankly, morons. As proof, I would like to submit the fact that these people are unable to write an email that does not make me want to stab my eyes out with a spatula.

The Internet is a wonderful invention that has accelerated the common man’s ability to communicate and share information. The downside is that it has become easier for asshats to mouth off about subjects on which they aren’t really qualified to blather.

Hey, freedom of speech and all that. But if you want other people to take you seriously, you shouldn’t sound like an asshat when you abuse that right.

So, in the hopes of helping to correct this widespread inability to communicate (and maybe to blow off a little steam), here is a style guide I have put together for writing business emails. Hopefully by using these techniques, idiots will be able to pass themselves off as real people with actual valid thoughts and not as idiots.

This is a working document so I may add things as I go, based on further experience in the field of dealing with jerkoffs or based on suggestions from my more intelligent and sympathetic readers.

First, The Hypocrite's Caveat: Just because I'm writing about writing doesn't mean I will use perfect English.  So if you find a mistake, eat me.  It's a blog.  Do as I say, not as I do.
And now, on with the show:

The goal of your email should be to clearly express thoughts, opinions, concerns and requests in a coherent manner. This is not Facebook, nor is it a Red Sox fan site nor the Nambla message board you frequent so very often. Your goal should not be to write a rambling monologue in which you sound like a lunatic nut-job with a fresh case of road rage. If what you really want is to cover your keyboard in the rabies froth spewing out of your malodorous pie hole, then you should just do what everyone else does and get a blog.

Theoretically, you are being paid to conduct business over the internet. As such, you are expected to organize your thoughts, opinions, etc. in a manner that is actually comprehensible to other humans.

In a moment, I will break down methods for organizing your words into the manner used by all semi-intelligent to intelligent people. However, before undertaking your composition, I would strongly recommend that you do the following:

  1. Determine what the point of your email is before you write it. Nobody likes pointless emails, and nobody likes an email that rambles on and on and on and tries to do eighteen million things and fails at all of them.
  2. Read the other emails pertaining to the issue first that were sent to you by more intelligent people. That way, you’re not writing for something that you already have but were too stupid to understand when you ignored it the first time around.
Once you have determined that you will not be wasting other people’s time, not to mention your own time and thoroughly limited brain power, you should consider organizing your thoughts into the following basic structures:

  1. Actual Words. Words are made up of letters, which are marks that describe what sounds you make, and are meant to express specific thoughts. Examples would be ‘Dog’ or ‘Red’ or ‘Intelligence’ which is a longer word but one you should hopefully still at least recognize. When writing, be sure to use actual words recognized by the English language and not a scramble of syllables and sounds that you made up because it seems like it should mean something. It doesn’t.  
  2. Sentences. These are collections of words that express a whole thought. Try to limit your sentences to one thought per, and also it is customary to end sentences with a period. Like I’m doing right now. It’s the dot at the end of the sentence. Look for it; it’s coming right now. Now. Sometimes you end sentences with a question mark because you are asking a question. Here is an example: “Papa, why don’t any of the other kids like me? Is it because I’m dumber than a sack of my own excrement?” Exclamation marks will be discussed at a later date, along with the use of ellipses. 
  3. Paragraphs. These are collections of sentences meant to combine all of the thoughts contained therein into one big thought. An example of this phenomena would be this paragraph. This paragraph is about paragraphs. Suddenly launching into a deranged rant about how you don’t respect me and then making analogies that don’t make any sense and are not germane to the conversation would completely invalidate the point of this paragraph, thus turning all of my hard work into a ridiculous collection of words that only serve to make me look like an asshole. So use paragraphs. Once you are done with your paragraph, hit the enter key until there is a space between each paragraph.


Now that you know the basic structures for expressing yourself, it’s time to learn the structure of an email as a whole. Please note once again that this is a business email and not one that you might send to one of your idiot friends about how much Milwaukee’s Best you consumed the night before, or how you slept with some sleaze ball and are now feeling an itch in your various nether regions. Those emails can be written in your usual collection of monosyllabic grunts and expletives.

In a business email, you begin by (a) naming the person to whom you are addressing your email, (b) informing them of what you wish them to know – called the body, (c) thanking them for the time you likely just wasted or at least saying goodbye, and finally (d) letting them know who wrote the email – called your signature.

A couple of quick notes:

Please separate these with the enter key so that they don’t run together. It’s not the end of the world, but good God it will irritate people if you start your email with “Fred I was thinking maybe and…”

It is customary that the body of your text actually be worth the time and effort of the person on the receiving end of your email. If it’s too short and glib then you’ll piss people off and if it goes on and on when you could very easily have been expressed in four sentences, you’ll piss people off too.

If your signature already includes “thank you” then you can skip (c). Otherwise, you’ll get something like:


Thank you,


Monica Moron”

Now that you are aware of the proper form and structure of an email let’s put it all together into a nice example for you:

Dear Moron,

Human resources has noted a history of incompetence in your employee file. I have also noticed your inability to express yourself in anything other than monosyllabic grunts and expletives. I see now that hiring you was a huge mistake. You are hereby fired, effective immediately.

On a personal note, the fact that you are my cousin embarrasses me; both in the fact that you are incompetent at your job and the fact that somehow we share the same gene pool.

Please vacate your desk before the stench seeps into the desk to the point where it can’t be bleached out of the expensive office furniture.

Thank you,

Your Boss

It’s just that easy


GW said...

Dear Nat I don't se the big deel is jst cause. i've got my lucnh in the frige and so doyou so if i take yours its is'nt on porpoise, just by accident and isno reason to take out on me by bloginging to your friends all about how suppiti (word verification word) I am. This matter is of urgent aptenttion. Please pay it to me let the buyer beware. REcent work please? Sincereely yours,

Thank you,
See me in the morning,
Your boss

Chris Othic said...

Lovely rant. I'm not even going to try and be funny after your post and GW's comment.