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Pet Peeves of Email Readers

Today I led a seminar called Email Intelligence with 22 people at the Port of Seattle. Like many of us, Port employees and managers get lots of email on countless topics from all kinds of people both inside and outside their organization. About 70 percent of participants in the class said they spend at least an hour a day reading email. Even more of them spend at least an hour a day writing it. Does that sound like your workday?

With all that experience in the room, I asked participants, in teams, to list their pet peeves as email readers. By “pet peeves,” I meant things that slow them down, drive them nuts, and clog their inboxes. Here is a master list made from their excellent inventories:

  1. Misspelled words
  2. Missing punctuation and punctuation errors
  3. Incorrect grammar
  4. Acronyms and abbreviations that aren’t clear
  5. Insufficient detail
  6. Incomplete information
  7. Too much information
  8. Convoluted information
  9. Information repeated
  10. In replies, requested information not provided
  11. Incomplete sentences (Example: “Will handle this.”)
  12. Too long (They said, “Condense it. Get to the point.”)
  13. Symbols, that is, smiley faces and other emoticons
  14. Backgrounds and color (make messages hard to read)
  15. Multiple questions scattered throughout email (makes it difficult to answer them)
  16. No subject line
  17. Subject unclear
  18. No clear purpose
  19. No desired outcome
  20. Unclear deadlines
  21. No clear request or directions
  22. Request for confirmation of receipt (in Outlook)
  23. Wrong name (not being careful about which address you choose from your contact list)
  24. Using “To” when the message should be a “CC” (This makes it hard to know who is responsible for replying and taking action)
  25. Using “Reply all” instead of “Reply”
  26. Careless use of BCC (blind copy)
  27. Repeated notices of events (They said, “If I want to attend, I will put in on my calendar–don’t keep reminding me.”)
  28. Multiple emails on the same subject (some forwarded, some repeated)
  29. Unnecessary messages (The reader asks, “Why me?”)
  30. Personal email sent companywide
  31. Phishing (sending email as a scam to get private information)
  32. Chain letter email
  33. Political email
  34. Marketing spam
  35. Delayed replies, that is, replies after several days
  36. Extensive replies (“Thank you. . . thank you . . . you’re welcome”)
  37. No reply
    To round out the list to 40, here are three of my own:
  38. Huge paragraphs
  39. Emailing when talking on the phone is more efficient
  40. No phone number provided

This is a fine list of what not to do in email. Pass it on. But if you email the link, be sure not to commit any of the no-nos!

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

2 comments on “Pet Peeves of Email Readers”

  • Some people write everything in the subject line. Are you kidding me???? This is the WORST thing anyone could do! Writing everything in the bloody subject line, leaving the body of the email blank! This not just irks and irritates me, but angers me beyond my limit! Those who don’t know how to email should bloody keep their thick heads out of it and stick to pen and paper. Shame on you!

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