Ahmed Elbatrawy

How not to annoy people via e-mail


More often than not, e-mail can be a backdrop for obnoxious behavior, say CNN.com's Netiquette columnists.

Editor’s note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book “Stuff Hipsters Hate.” Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at netiquette@cnn.com.

(CNN) — E-mail can be a lovely way to connect, an easy and instant medium for getting back or keeping in touch, a canvas for hellos and sorrys and XOXOs.

But more often than not it’s a backdrop for obnoxious behavior, and you, gentle readers, just don’t stop giving us reasons to wag our fingers at you.

We’re not talking about the content of your digital missives (though plenty of you could stand to take a course in Spelling 101 or How to Avoid Coming Across as Brusque and/or Angry).

No, we’re addressing the very way you use e-mail, the logistics of hurtling e-mails into the tangled switchboard of the Web. Here, three blatantly annoying sins to avoid before hitting send.

1. Abusing the reply-all button

Ninety percent of mass announcements are annoying in the first place, according to a statistic we just made up. Don’t be that dummy who piles spam atop spam by replying all and saying something inane or meant for the sender.

As one reader complained, “I find those ‘Jane Doe wants to add her most sincere congrats to Mary Smith on the occasion of her selection for…’ messages mightily irritating when they’re sent to all 900 recipients on the original announcement message. I don’t care what Jane says to the honoree AND I wish she would not say it to the world (me).”

Granted, the sender should have BCC’ed everyone in the first place, thus preventing a mouthy recipient from spamming the entire list, but until we reach a utopian era when everyone comports themselves politely online, we’ve got to do the best we can to stop the madness.

2. Mixing work and play

Your friends and acquaintances may occasionally play the role of career contacts, but remember: Work e-mails and personal e-mails are not interchangeable.

Let’s walk through an example: Say you realize your friend’s techie boyfriend should, for professional reasons, receive the press release your assistant is sending out for your upcoming Tweets and Beats presentation (tag line: “where social networks and drum circles collide”).

If you’ve only communicated in casual group e-mails up until this point, you may be tempted just lazily to add his Gmail to your list. In a word: Don’t.

Instead, send him a quick note asking for his work address and mention that you’re planning to send an event announcement his way; that way he won’t be picking out work-related e-mails amid his nonbusiness conversations, and — bonus — he’ll keep an eye out when the press release hits his inbox. (And catching his eye is critical: Last year, the typical corporate e-mail user sent and received 105 e-mails per day, and 19% of those that made it past the spam filter were, in fact, spam, according to research firm Radicati.)

3. Sending an eight- to 12-page preamble of formatting debris

So you’ve just encountered a warning about the health risks of paintballing or a series of photos of albino dolphins, and you absolutely must forward it on. As we’ve noted, you should begin by really asking yourself if your recipients care to see this.

(What’s that, you say they’ve never responded? Never thanked you for the chain letter? Never forwarded you a forward themselves? Then, 99 to 1, they wish you’d leave them off the list.)

But if you’re going to send away, you rebel you, at least do your hapless recipients the courtesy of deleting the equivalent of phlegmy throat-clearing: lines upon lines that look something like this (ahem):

Begin forwarded message:

From: [an e-mail address you don't know]

Date: December 26, 2011 11:24:10 AM CST

To: [approximately 18 lines of e-mails you don't know]

Subject: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: YOU’VE GOT TO SEE THIS!!

—–Original Message—–

From: [another random yahoo you don't know]

To: [another half-page of e-mail addresses]

Sent: Sat, Dec 26, 2011 7:27 am

Subject: Fwd: Fwd: YOU’VE GOT TO SEE THIS!!

Unbelieveable, definitely read and forward on, what a joy.

…ad infinitum.

Delete all the headers in the body of your e-mail so the relevant material is at the top of the e-mail. Clean up that subject line so it doesn’t start on a stuttering F-sound.

In short, give your contacts one less reason to hate you, and maybe they’ll take that life-is-all-about-beautiful-relationships chain e-mail to heart.






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Ahmed Elbatrawy