Test your email IQ

How do you know if your online writing clicks? Here are twenty questions to ask yourself before you hit Send. (If you’d like to learn more, see You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online.)

  1. Is the subject line helpful? The reader should be able to tell at a glance what you’re writing about and how urgent it is. (Chapters 1 and 2 of You Send Me.)
  2. Did you get right to the point? Computer users have short attention spans. Don’t expect them to scroll through more than a screenful to find out what’s up. (Chapter 6 of You Send Me.)
  3. Is the language clear? Don’t obscure your message with techie talk, trendy terms, humongous words, and convoluted sentences. (Chapters 4, 7, and 9 of You Send Me.)
  4. Did you say too much? Try not to write more than you have to, especially at work. Long e-mails get read last. If you’re passing something along, cut and paste only the relevant parts. (Chapters 2 and 6 of You Send Me.)
  5. Are your facts right? It’s all right to be informal, but not with the facts. And check the math too. The Internet is full of misinformation, so be careful about what you pass on. (Chapters 5 and 9 of You Send Me.)
  6. Did you say what you’re replying to? A cryptic “Fine” or “Nope” or “Maybe later” won’t do. Never make the reader guess which message you’re answering, especially if time has passed. (Chapters 1, 2, and 6 of You Send Me.)
  7. Were you polite? Small slights are magnified in e-mail and other online writing, and offhand remarks can be taken the wrong way. Ask for something, don’t demand it. Use words like “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.” (Chapters 1 and 4 of You Send Me.)
  8. Were you discreet? E-mail isn’t the place for sensitive personnel matters, criticism of third parties, off-color remarks, office romance, gossip, rumors, or tooting your own horn. And don’t share someone’s e-mail address without permission. (Chapters 1 and 3 of You Send Me.)
  9. Is there a greeting and a closing? Take the chill out of e-mail. Begin and end your message on a personal note. There’s nothing analog about being friendly. (Chapter 2 of You Send Me.)
  10. Is the attachment welcome? Before you attach that spreadsheet or home video or musical interlude to your e-mail, think about the reader. Are you sure she wants it and has the software to make sense of it? (Chapters 2, 3, and 6 of You Send Me.)
  11. Did you use the shift key? Capitalize properly. E-mail that’s all lowercase is hard to read, and e-mail that’s all caps is considered rude. (Chapter 1 of You Send Me.)
  12. Did you break for paragraphs? Please, no solid blobs of type. Break your message into bite-size pieces, one short paragraph per subject. It’ll be easier to read and easier to answer. (Chapters 1 and 7 of You Send Me.)
  13. Will the reader get the shorthand? Not everybody understands the smileys, acronyms, and insider jargon that worm their way into e-mail. If you and your reader share the same slanguage, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, stick to plain English. (Chapters 4 and 7 of You Send Me.)
  14. Will the joke fall flat? Those strings of jokes that clog so many in-baskets aren’t universally appreciated. Be selective about what you send and to whom. (Chapter 3 of You Send Me.)
  15. Does this look like spam? There’s a thin line between legitimate promotion and spam. Keep hype out of the subject line, and personalize each message. If it reads like indiscriminate bulk mail, it probably is. (Chapter 3 of You Send Me.)
  16. Do all these people need copies? Don’t copy your every idea to everyone in your seminar or sales group or alumni association or address book. Everybody else’s mailbox is just as stuffed as yours. (Chapters 2, 3, and 6 of You Send Me.)
  17. Should you sleep on it? Never e-mail in the heat of anger. You’ll regret it the next day. If there’s steam shooting out your ears, cool off before you click Send. (Chapters 1 and 3 of You Send Me.)
  18. Does it have to be an e-mail? E-mail is swell, but it’s not always appropriate. Maybe a letter or a phone call or a face-to-face meeting would be better. (Chapter 3 of You Send Me.)
  19. Did you read it again? Give all your e-mail a second look. Imagine the time you’ll save on damage control the next day. Think of rereading as time saved, not time wasted. (Chapter 9 of You Send Me.)
  20. Did you check the grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Keep a dictionary and a grammar guide on your desk, and don’t just use them as paperweights. Spell checkers? They aren’t perfect, but make a habit of using yours—with a skeptical eye. Grammar checkers, in our opinion, are a waste of time. (Chapters 11, 12, 13, and 14 of You Send Me.)

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