“SEND”: Improve the Quality of Your Email

Send-coverAll but the youngest of web workers grew up learning not about email but about paper correspondence, as dictated by the likes of Emily Post. I personally learned to type on an electric typewriter in high school, and can write a perfectly polite thank you notecard thanks to the schooling of my mother.

Email didn’t become a regular part of my life until well into adulthood, and I rapidly learned there were no hard-and-fast rules governing the rapidly evolving email frontier. I had to learn with the rest of the world as the rules evolved that “all caps” was the equivalent of shouting, and that it was rude to forward everything you thought was funny to your entire address book.

As email became a more integral part of my business life, the questions about what was the correct way to use it became more complex. And yet I had no Emily Post to turn to for guidance on the correct etiquette in this new form of correspondence. Or at least I didn’t, until I found “SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home” by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe.

The authors of “SEND” aren’t etiquette mavens laying down arbitrary rules. Instead, what they’ve created — after years of heavy professional email usage — is actually a guide to improving the quality of communications via email. In 2007, when the book was originally authored, Shipley was the Op-Ed Page Editor at the New York Times, and Schwalbe was Senior VP at Hyperion Books. (A revised version was published in September 2008.)

“SEND” is an easy read, and makes an easy reference volume as well because of its organization. It is an essentially practical book, with advice that is easily applicable to the real world and illustrated by real world examples (with names changed to protect the innocent).

The first big question that the book discusses is deciding when we should even send an email in the first place. Many web workers tend to default to email communication for various reasons. “SEND” brings up alternatives such as fax, letter and phone, and suggests how to evaluate when they might be more appropriate.

After you’ve decided you actually should use email for your communication, “SEND” will walk you through how to best handle all the various elements of an email. In email we deal with questions of etiquette and with options that aren’t available or considered on paper. Who should we “cc:” and “bcc:?” Should we attach a file, and in what format? What should the subject line say? Should we use a read receipt? The book addresses all these questions, and more, by teaching us how to make these decisions for ourselves instead of just laying down absolute rules, because in email communication there are no absolute rules.

Besides the nuts and bolts elements of an email there is the content at the heart of it: the body. “SEND” defines six different types of emails (“The Ask,” “The Answer,” “The Facts,” “Gratitude,” “Groveling” and “Social Glue”) and discusses the particular concerns to think about when sending each one. There are also entire chapters devoted to two particularly problematic types of emails: emotional emails, and emails that could land you in jail. The latter chapter actually deals with all sorts of potential legal ramifications of emails, and gives basic advice on how to avoid them.

If you live (and work) by your inbox, “SEND” is a must-read for improving the quality of your email communication and avoiding costly missteps.

Has an email miscommunication ever caused you a business problem?