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5 questions to ask yourself before you send an email

Elizabeth Bromstein|

We all get way too many emails. At any given time there are hundreds of unopened messages in my inbox. And I’m scared to open them.

Email is annoying. Right? People send unnecessary messages, send them to the wrong people, clog your inbox copying you when they don’t need to, and overuse exclamation marks to the point where it seems psychotic (!!!!![!]).

You know what would make life easier? If everyone asked themselves these five questions before hitting send.

Do I need to send this? Is it a chain letter? Is it an inspirational story about the power of love and the triumph of the will? Are you forwarding a joke? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you do not need to send the email.

Yes, there are people who seem to enjoy getting and sending some of these – or you wouldn’t be getting them yourself. These people are mostly over the age of 75 and retired, with some extra time on their hands. Most people hate receiving these messages.

Other examples of messages you don’t need to send include questions to which you can Google the answers.

Did I proof read it? Have you heard about the restaurant that had angus beef on its menu but forgot the “g”? Or the Iowa school that invited people to a “linch and learn” to celebrate Black History Month? You never know where a typo might take you. Be careful. Even if you don’t wind up digging a hole you can’t get out of, it’s still important to proof your copy before sending. Particularly if you’re communicating with a higher up or a prospective employer or connection.

Do I sound professional? Yo, G, WASSUUUUP? OK, I’m totes old. I have no idea what the kids are saying these days. But if you are sending a professionally-related email, unless you’re buddies with the correspondent, make sure it sounds professional. This means turning off the caps lock, leaving out the emoticons, keeping language clean, and for Pete’s sake turning off the exclamation marks.

Am I mad? Don’t send an angry email. We all write them, but we should never send them. Go ahead and write it if you must – just that can be cathartic – but then save it. And don’t address it, in case you send it by accident. Sit on it for 24 hours. Ninety-nine per cent of the time you won’t want to send it after that. If you still want to make a point, rewrite the message to sound less angry, and then you can send it. (Related question: Am I drunk?)

Does everyone on the list need to get it? We all get emails that have nothing to do with us. Updates from totally unrelated departments, or the dreaded “reply all.” I don’t need to know that you’re running late to a meeting I’m not attending, or that you’re bringing muffins.

Also, if someone sends out a mass FYI to the entire company like, “There are leftover baked goods and coffee in the kitchen,” you don’t need to copy me on your “Thanks!” message.

Take me off your list.

Another scenario: if you’re doing some form of promotion, make sure the people on your list will be interested in what you are promoting. I constantly get press releases for political books. I don’t write about books. Or politics.

Let’s all ask ourselves these five questions before sending an email, and we will make the world a better place, one message at a time.


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