IT Employment

Four email types that can drive you crazy

People have distinctly different ways of doing things -- even something as simple as emailing. Here are four types that can drive you crazy.

I'm all about communication. To me, any attempt at communication is better than nothing at all. But, having said that, there are a few ways of emailing that can grate on the recipient. Here are four of them:

The doctoral candidate

This group is the polar opposite of the Gen Y'ers who are accustomed to texting with word shortcuts like "u" for "you." Though admirable for their need for absolute clarity, the Doctoral Candidates send the kind of email you dread opening. Their emails include greetings and salutations, the complete history of the issue at hand, and a request for a reply that stops just short of a self-addressed stamped envelope.

I know I sound like a real tool dissing the politeness of such emails, but, as it is with everyone else on the planet right now, my time is tight. If your email requires CliffsNotes, I'm likely not going to welcome it.

The stream-of-consciousness emailer

You know this kind of email. It's the I-guess-he-knew-what-he-was-saying-but-I have-no-idea-what-he's-talking-about kind. This is the person who is so intent on getting down the thoughts that flitter through his brain that he doesn't take into account how the recipient will perceive the message. I don't mind the occasional run-on sentence, but if your emails require the employment of a secret decoder ring, then you might want to flesh them out a bit. And say what you will about proper punctuation, but a missing or misplaced comma can make a big difference in meaning. (There's a big difference between "Let's eat, Grampaw!" and "Let's eat Grampaw!")

The out-of-context puzzler

My job requires that I communicate with about 50 freelance contributors and roughly 100 billion PR people. At least once a day I get an email from someone that simply says, "Do you still need that?" or "What did you think about that issue?" I don't care if I had a petabyte memory chip lodged in my head, there's no way I can remember the context of every message I get without a little background reminder.

The emotive emailer

Have you ever gotten an email that is so full of formatting (!) that you're EMOTIONALLY exhausted by the time you finish reading it?!! Or ones that contain keyboard emoticons that you've never seen or heard of? I'm really not up on the art of keyboard hieroglyphics, so I'm likely to interpret a laughing emoticon as a screaming one. And that can make a big difference. Also, I think human beings should be given a finite number of exclamation points to use in their lifetime and no more.

Do you have a kind of email type that irks you? If so, then share.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

292 comments
kritik1
kritik1

And also the NSA has no life.  They keep track of gunk and the junk and start all over with the junk to go over the gunk.  And I feel happy for the NSA that they feel they are empowered to go over all of the gunk of everybody the same way the humanoid old turkey buzzard goes skimming all over the landfill in the hope of finding the treasure.  And best of all "the anonymous" keeps track of NSA.  That is why mother nature made the planet round.  Round and Round it goes -FoxWoods.

kritik1
kritik1

Was a doctoral candidate once and I did not have much time to read peoples email junk.  Now that I am what is called post doctoral candidate -title of doctor ...... and therefore even as we speak [it] has not had a profound effect and I still skim through the emails or stop dead in my tracks soon after I start reading.  Pre-doctoral or post-doctoral I am pretty much the same old doc.

kritik1
kritik1

And I leave the emotional ones to be emotionally handicapped person.  And so they seem to think that people would read their pathetic story.  After reading few words or lines ...  I stop.  Many would stop too.  poor you if you read through all of it, but then again -keep reading.

kritik1
kritik1

Internet is a place for senseless gunk.  Add junk to the gunk, and there you have it my dear.  my contribution to the internet and the web to keep it alive.  do you feel good now?  how do you feel?

kritik1
kritik1

hundred billion   ... hundred billion? ha ha ha.  ha ha ha ha. ha ha ha ha ha.  Sure why not.  Poor you.

seorsa10
seorsa10

I really have a thing about subject lines. I get so many emails, and when time is short I rely on the subject lines to prioritize. I have two systems from different IT depart ments for spam filtering, and the subject line is usually my only clue that something is not spam. I have actually trained my staff to use the subject line shor short emails, such as cordinating lunch schedules or, "Do you need anything from Starbucks?" emails.  If your subject line says "Long story..." that is right, it is not getting read. EVER!

john
john

If I can't say it in 5 sentences or less, I really pause and consider if email is the most appropriate tool.

vjf
vjf

Emails from senders who have no email signature whatsoever really bother me.  No indication of what company they are with, what their phone number is in case you need to call them, or anything else that could help you identify and communicate with them.  It especially adds insult to injury when the sender decides not to waste his or her time by typing anything more than a few words that don't even explain why they are emailing you. 

JJMach
JJMach

Good bit of advice for the Doctoral Candidate: read your e-mails before you send them and watch for sounding like the DC's close cousin: "Mr. Smarty-Pants."  

Early in my career, my insecurity lead me to spew every little bit of information I had when someone asked me a question.  I feared I was making the wrong decision, and wanted the other person to understand how I came to my conclusions, so they could find any faults with my logic.  Problem: I didn't say that up front and came off as a nerd trying to show off how much I knew or make them uncomfortable about how little they knew.  

While I don't try to hide information, now, I do try to tailor the message to the recipient.  If they need a lot of information to make the right decision, I try provide it in a concise and organized way.  (I already commented here about trying to write like a good news article.)  If they don't, or I'm just trying to pass along some information, I keep the details to a high level of essentials and don't bother with the minutiae.  Ask yourself: What do they need to know?

The other way that you can come off as Mr. Smarty-Pants is to use such dreaded words and phrases as "obviously," "as you should know," or call anything a "no-brainer."  Not everybody sees and understands things the way you do.  Worse yet, you could be wrong, and then you look twice as much the idiot.  For a similar reason, never call difficulty (effort or complexity) "trivial" unless you are speaking for yourself and can back that up.  Telling anyone else their hard work is trivial or discounting someone else's difficulty out of ignorance makes you look like an a==hole.  

When you are trying to explain something, focus on who you are talking to, and have the humility to accept that you don't know everything.  Everything is a learning experience.

Pleiades45
Pleiades45

Wow. This was lame. Nothing productive to discuss? Who else do you want to slam?

I won't write you.  You'll be happy then. 


Signed, 

Probably outside your demographic


mjeds
mjeds

emails with signatures that tell the senders life story and are included in every reply of the email chain and require you to dig through the signatures to find the context of the message for the first email in the chain, replies could only contain your name and phone number/extension.

my last company had a signature policy, name, title, company phone # and your extension and/or direct line and the company website, and legal disclaimer

no logos, no pictures, no stupid fonts.

company I am at now has an open signature policy "be creative" and it is beyond annoying..   centered sigs, pictures of peoples kids/pets, stupid quotes and funny quips.  and someone in there is their name and what department they are in.

register2@optonline.
register2@optonline.

Emails that have a subject that has nothing to do with the message.   Also, emails with false claims that the government is doing or not doing whatever.  There are enough problems with the government without having to make things up.

ccblues
ccblues

"And say what you will about proper punctuation..."

There is a trend worth noticing here. I have no doubt, the generation previous to mine was much better with the written word than my generation. And they did it with less education, too. Complaining about over formality in what is essentially a note is one thing, but not all emails are notes. 

Kids today don't do email, too formal, too many rules.  Sorry to have to tell you, Ms. Editor, rules provide context. They are essential to clear, written communication.

DittoHeadStL
DittoHeadStL

How about when something goes out to a very large group of people, and some moron Replies All with "LOL"

tech.khan
tech.khan

The thing I hate most is the email in the subject line. Empty body, and a huge subject line. I despise that with every fiber of my being.

arjanwiskerke
arjanwiskerke

Please pull yourself together, you cannot let a simple e-mail drive you crazy.

DylanMcGuire
DylanMcGuire

My pet peeve is person that always replies to an email with a phone call.  It kills the whole purpose of emailing.

Oblio88
Oblio88

The Shotgun Email - the sender isn't certain of their audience, so they include everyone...

Oblio88
Oblio88

The Endless Chain - the email that includes a dozen or more forwards and replies - the reader has to start at the bottom and navigate through the whole saga. If I get included in one of these, I write a summary and delete most of the preceding emails before I reply.

wgreer
wgreer

I was a doctoral candidate. My boss has changed me. I am still allowed to do my thing; she just asks that I provide an executive summary paragraph/bullets up front that communicates the critical points. The details following can be as rich as I want them to be and the person receiving the email can choose to drill down for facts or figures they're interested in or not.

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

I love getting emails....... that seem to have..... some chunk of thought process....... going on in the..... background...... but was omitted..... by....... too many..................................

Oh and...................................................... (just in case........)

maj37
maj37

The one I would like to add is the "I am all riled up so I am going to really slam you" type.  This is of course an old problem that we have harped about for years.  I also like to call it the "type type type type, send" problem with no proof reading or thought about the effect on the readers.

IsaacTheo
IsaacTheo

...and do not forget   THE EMAIL WITH EMPTY SUBJECT LINE   or    THE EMAIL RESPONDING TO ONLY ONE OF YOUR FOUR QUESTIONS and   YES   THE EMAIL DONE IN CAPITALS FOLLOWED BY !!!!!

Does anyone have a collection of nice/witty/sharp answering lines "that will teach them" for each of those cases?

IsaacTheo

clcoronios
clcoronios

Oh so SAD!  I'm a mutt - 1 & 2, with a bit of 4! 

BelvaJenn
BelvaJenn

I've been, and still struggle with, being the doctoral candidate. A very wise manager a couple of years back ran me through a self-study course called Information Mapping.  It was extremely useful in helping me learn to think through the essential information I needed to include.  I also am a follower of E.B. White (the Elements of Style guy), whose most significant rule was "Omit unnecessary words".

theresa
theresa

Those who NEVER populate a subject line - how can I ever sort that out?

codepoke
codepoke

Am I the only one who's found the bulk of my email interactions to be smooth? In my experience, things are getting better every year. Shoot. Even I'm lightening up on the number of paragraphs I write. :-)

mtiffany
mtiffany

You've forgotten what I believe is the most annoying email. The response email with only 1 of the 3 questions answered. Thank you for your single answer, what about....??? I love asking the same question multiple times to coworkers, make me feel like I'm back home asking my 3 y.o. son if he needs to go potty.

I've even resorted to numbering questions with hopes that the recipient will clue into the fact that there is more than one question that they need to answer. Don't waste your time, this tactic won't help either.

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

All too often I am 'the doctoral candidate'. It is not because I WANT to be, but because all too often superiors email one line questions providing none of the applicable variables - - and expect definitive answers. The superior obviously doesn't want me to know any specifics, so 'I need more information' is not an acceptable answer. That leaves me writing a series of 'if this, then that' responses.

J.E.Trees
J.E.Trees

The "Facebooker"

I'm tired of getting personal or stupid messages through Facebook. Please don't tell me about sensitive or what the dog ate messages through that venue. Why does the world need to know these things? 

Treknology
Treknology

I dislike, from one particular person, the "stream of consciousness that is also out of context" email. My usual reply is, "Can you repeat that in English, please?"

brickviking
brickviking

@vjf I actually don't have a signature (dot sig in oldschool parlance), because I don't belong to any company. And professional courtesy would dictate that I leave off most of my FunnyMail signatures anyhow, as they serve no identifying purpose. So, what does a private joe do then?

thebaldguy
thebaldguy

@Pleiades45 You're in the demographic that would rather bitch about something they don't like, rather than just ignore it. 

DT2
DT2

@DylanMcGuire I do that sometimes.  Often, one can resolve an issue with a two minute phone call that would take several e-mails bouncing back and forth.  Also, one cannot sense the full tone and meaning of the source in an e-mail.

brickviking
brickviking

@Oblio88 I so LOATHE those endless chains, and the nouveau-thing of top-reply. It's like seeing the end of the story "He did it" and having to read through the 39 stepped replies to find out what he did. Or there's the multiple replies of replies that ALL repeat the same flaming text. Needless to say, I strip everything but what I'm replying to, and I re-indent to suit. Short and sweet, that's the way I like my emails.

JJMach
JJMach

@wgreer 

Best advice I ever got from this or another blog a few years ago:  Write your e-mails like a (properly-written) news article.  

The first ("lead") paragraph needs to contain the essential element that you are trying to get across.  What's the most important thing you are trying to convey?  If you need a question answered, lead with that, then explain why you are asking or what they need to know to make a decision.   

After the lead, you break down the details of what you are trying to say by importance, but try to keep the order logical and the wording succinct.  Get to the point, stay to the point, and never use three words when one will do.  Lack of an attention span is now so common, "TL;DR" is now in the Oxford English dictionary.  Unfortunately for the Doctoral Candidate, it means the more they type, the more likely their messages will be ignored.

ahadenfeldt
ahadenfeldt

@wgreer Words to live by. Maybe it's a mobile phenomenon as others have suggested.

I thought I did OK at this myself until one particular manager--one I truly liked & respected--helped me 'refine' my technique. I eventually realized that I basically had four *words* to get his attention. Not that he would never read detail, I just needed to organize it in a top-down way.

Full disclosure: I technically was a doctoral student for a couple of months, but have since recovered (relax--I'm kidding).

pgit
pgit

@BelvaJenn Your first sentence reads "I've been... being the doctoral candidate." The second comma needs to be placed after the word "being" in order to convey your meaning properly.  I'm just being a dink this morning, sorry...:D

eaglewolf
eaglewolf

Simple .. don't respond.  If the sender asks why by phone or, heaven forbid, face-to-face contact, just tell them you don't open messages without a subject.  Tell them a lot of scammers use that technique (true statement) and you just didn't feel lilke having your computer compromised.  Little piece of 'social engineering' since basic curiosity generally wins and people view their e-mail as HTML

mradicke
mradicke

@mtiffany You're right.  Three yes or no questions.  Response: No.  No to what?  And nothing changes that behavior.

viProCon
viProCon

Here yee f'in hear yee (or however that phrase goes).  How hard is it really to just answer the damn questions?  I mean seriously, people that don't address email are morons because their [what is ultimately] laziness results in more work for all involved.  Can't stand those people. 

"What's your favorite ice cream flavor, chocolate or vanilla? "

"Yes. "

rjeuch
rjeuch

@mtiffany I get this all the time. I think I can write explicit concise emails. However, asking more than one question may require a longer text. Invariably, only the last question is addressed, ignoring any other. I believe I have the answer. The same people who have accepted the lousy audio quality of cell phones as the standard also read emails on those stupid tiny phone screens. After scrolling down, only the last part (last question) is visible. Ergo, that one is attended to. The others were lost in the fog.

BelvaJenn
BelvaJenn

Should also have mentioned that I have a serious comma problem.  Correction duly noted and appreciated:)

viProCon
viProCon

Excellent point about the mobile phone thing.  This email subject gets me riled up because it is a constant problem.  This mobile phone thing is a big one.  I am a professional, and I expect all others I work with to be the same.  If the email is too large to read on a phone, reserve replying until you're at the PC.  I don't care if you get 100 emails a day, be a professional nad manage things. 

DT2
DT2

@BelvaJenn Panda eats, shoots, and leaves!

A rule I follow is, if you take out the stuff between the commas, are you left with a complete and meaningful sentence?  If so, they are placed correctly. In some cases they may not be needed, though.  I'm still working on that part.

Selma
Selma

@maj37 One Subject per Email

I learned to send one question per email.  Example: Three emails with a different question in each email so each question will stand out. It is obvious when a question is skipped.  I always try to have very different subject headings too.

maj37
maj37

This is precisely what I do.  I check e-mails all the time on my company iPhone but if it is long and complicated then it just has to wait.

The only one answer bugs me to death sometimes, though it doesn't always seem to be the last sometimes it is the first or one in the middle, almost like it is the one they noticed most or the easiest to answer.  Two solutions, one like mtiffany said is asking the same questions over, which is what I usually do.  Another I read recently in some list of things to do and not do was to only ever put 1 question in each e-mail you send, of course that came be a pain as well.