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    • Get rid of “hello” and “bye”, along with custom footers. Your name is in the “From” field of each e-mail, and your position can be pulled out from Active Directory or something.
    • Use double enters to make separate paragraphs. Don’t let your e-mail to be a “wall of text”.
    • Check typos in your e-mails. Or use a spell-checker if you’re too lazy.
    • Seriously, being too lazy is NOT a good thing. Really. Don’t brag about it.
    • DO include a short context about the problem you’re having with some issue, along with a link to the issue. Link itself is not enough.
    • DO NOT use bold text, or italic text, or different colors of your font, or use it very rarely. There’s 95% chance it will be abused. And it will happen that some people will send very important e-mails consisting of only bold letters (even with the footer), because of such critical importance of such email. And later, when everyone will start using bold letters, nobody will notice them anymore.
    • HTML can be used for good. Like, for example, using links to issues, not for changing the formatting of the text.
    • Do not place links to Jira, Redmine or whatever, inline in your e-mail. Use references[1], like this[2], and put the links on the bottom of the message, or use HTML and use normal hyperlinks.
    • If the company uses top-posting when replying, DON’T reply using inline replies. Same thing in the reverse direction. A good rule can be: use whatever convention is used by the person you’re exchanging e-mails with.
    • When replying, trim footers of the previous person (you can leave the signature, but again, the name will be visible anyway in the From field).
    • Don’t use custom characters when using inline replies, use standard one like this: “>”
    • If pasting code, format it with a monospaced font, or at least make an effort with formatting it, so that the person who will read it later will have it easier. If using text mode and pasting code, consider using ‘#v+’ and ‘#v-’ markers.
    • If writing a longer e-mail, summarize it on the end.
    • If writing a longer e-mail, try to put a TL;DR version on the top of the mail. Then, consider if this TL;DR version can be sent instead of the longer message. If yes, remove the longer message and send TL;DR version as the actual message (the longer the message is, the smaller chance is that everyone will read it).
    • Again, if you’re writing a longer e-mail, double make sure the recipients will understand what is it you ask/expect from them.
    • If you want to say “I don’t know”, include the next best thing that comes to your mind when you think about a solution to some problem.
    • Remember that an e-mail is written once, and can be read hundreds of times by hundreds of people. Make an effort to spell-check, format, structure it and minimize it (unless you’re writing a poem).
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      I agree with most of your post.

      Get rid of “hello” and “bye”, along with custom footers. Your name is in the “From” field of each e-mail, and your position can be pulled out from Active Directory or something.

      Custom footers I can see either way. They’re noisy, but it also can be useful context. But do say “hi” or “thanks”. People appreciate some warmth.

      If writing a longer e-mail, try to put a TL;DR version on the top of the mail. Then, consider if this TL;DR version can be sent instead of the longer message. If yes, remove the longer message and send TL;DR version as the actual message (the longer the message is, the smaller chance is that everyone will read it).

      Good advice. One slightly different spin: if you can’t substitute the TL;DR version, it’s highly likely that you’ve created a document that deserves to live longer than the email you’re writing. Ask yourself whether you should give it a permanent home (e.g. a wiki) after writing the email.

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        But do say “hi” or “thanks”. People appreciate some warmth.

        I include these for the first email I send to someone I don’t regularly correspond with, and omit them after that.

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          That’s probably right, I was reacting to what I perceived as a blanket rule. And I suppose I’d never write “bye”, but “best”, “thanks” or something similar.

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        Get rid of “hello” and “bye”, along with custom footers. Your name is in the “From” field of each e-mail, and your position can be pulled out from Active Directory or something.

        E-Mail is not instant messaging. In the latter you can omit the greeting/opening, but personally, I consider e-mails without opening and closing just rude. If the reason for the omission of opening and closing is that you exchange a whole series of e-mails with a specific person in a single day, you’re using the wrong medium. Use an instant messager.

        Not so long ago, I wrote a (German) blogpost about IM vs. e-mail, albeit it was in a totally different context (security).

        As for footers, it is not unusual that they are legally required.

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          It really depends on the context. If you’re writing an e-mail to someone for the first time today, a greeting might not be a bad idea, especially when you’ll probably still use a greeting even if using instant messaging. But I don’t think any further followups or replies require greetings, but still many people use them. It’s not an issue that needs to be resolved, but I just don’t think it’s necessary.

          As for footers, it also depends on the context. I don’t think footers are legally required when exchanging e-mails inside the company. They may be required when a person needs to contact people outside of the company. But when such a person sends an e-mail to another person in the company, it can look unnecessary to include a “yes” or “no” answer, following with a footer message that is larger than 2 pages.

          Also I can’t agree with the theory that instant messaging is a fundamentally different method of communication than e-mails. It can be used this way; but I don’t think there should be a pressure to reply instantly if a message will arrive on an IM communicator. If I’m busy, absent, or in a bad mood, I don’t answer IMs. I may answer them 3 hours later. I don’t see it as a problem. If a person is in a hurry, there’s always a high priority phone call that can be made.

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            Hello,

            Why is it rude in e-mail, but not in your message on Lobsters?

            Kind regards,

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              Good question! While your messages in lobsters may be in response to an earlier comment by a particular individual, the norms are different because it’s a discussion board, in which comments are generally meant to be read by many individuals.

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                (Intentionally without a greeting)

                Because lobste.rs is not a replacement for snail mail. lobste.rs is not 1-to-1 communication, but a 1-to-many and many-to-one communication.

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                  E-mail is also not 1-to-1 communication, I am not the only recipient for the vast majority of e-mails I receive.

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                    When I made my original statement, I only had 1-to-1 e-mails in mind. Public discussion media like mailing lists work over e-mail, technically, but are not what I experience as the normal use of e-mail. My original statement applies to the personal 1-to-1 communication, where e-mail replaces the written letter. Letters are not written without openings and closings, and so shouldn’t be 1-to-1 e-mails. I don’t write greetings in mailing list e-mails either, except for the opening e-mail of a thread.

                    Maybe I’m just conservative.

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              Do not place links to Jira, Redmine or whatever, inline in your e-mail. Use references[1], like this[2], and put the links on the bottom of the message, or use HTML and use normal hyperlinks.

              I disagree with this one. Especially in an email with lots of links and/or text. I find it annoying to have to scroll to the bottom, find the corresponding link, then scroll back up and find my place again from where I was reading.

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                Get rid of “hello” and “bye”, along with custom footers. Your name is in the “From” field of each e-mail, and your position can be pulled out from Active Directory or something.

                I’ve come around to this.

                For those of us who have been around the block a few dozen times, signatures are a hold over from the USENET days, when there was no LDAP or AD or whatever and your .signature was a part of your flair :)

                But in today’s corporate world, they’re just extra noise.

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                  LDAP and AD does assume it is intra-corporate email isn’t it?

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                    Is that really where it comes from? I’d assume it comes from signatures in writing physical letters.

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                      Well, sure, that’s where the word originated, but I’m saying it was popularized by USENET and early E-mail.

                      Here’s the USENET “Netiquette” document circa 1993/5 but I’m quite sure it goes back MUCH farther. I know I saw E-mail .sigs in wide use in the late 80s when I was on the internet.

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                    Adding to this:

                    • Avoid using passive voice. It adds more, useless, words. Also, complicates the structure of your text, tiring your readers and sometimes even confusing them.
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                      Passive voice is to be avoided. More useless words are added by it, and the complexity of the structure of your text is increased by it, as well as the energy and sometimes even confusion levels of your readers.

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                        This sentence is clear, but reading passive voice all day will surely tire you.

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                      HTML can be used for good. Like, for example, using links to issues, not for changing the formatting of the text.

                      Agree.

                      Do not place links to Jira, Redmine or whatever, inline in your e-mail. Use references[1], like this[2], and put the links on the bottom of the message, or use HTML and use normal hyperlinks.

                      Wait what? This seems directly contradictory to the previous statement. Why are links to issue trackers (Jira/Redmine/whatever) exempt from the previous example of good use of HTML links in email?

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                        I think what was meant was this:

                        Please see issue 1234 (https://foo.jira.com/browse/ABC-1234)

                        versus this:

                        Please see issue 1234 [1].

                        [1] https://foo.jira.com/browse/ABC-1234

                        If you’re using inline HTML, then it would be an actual link:

                        Please see issue 1234

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                          Yes, that’s what I meant, thanks!

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                      It would also be a way better email if you dropped all the HTML shenanigans.

                      Composing better emails? Plain text should be number 1 on the list.

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                        Personally disagree on this. A proper HTML link is almost always cleaner than “(see link below)”. You can’t underline stuff (you can “put asterisks around stuff” but…). Sometimes you want to just reference an image inline!

                        There’s a reason that word processors are a big business. Laying out a message nicely aesthetically is valuable for human consumption! The answer to “people always misuse HTML layout” isn’t to get rid of HTML layouts, it’s to teach people how to use it nicely!

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                          I totally get what you mean, but emails are not meant for rich text.

                          Link to a shared document (or an HTML page!) if you need to convey some information that requires media.

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                            I will admit to preferring plain text, but if HTML is used sparingly, it’s fine. That said…

                            A proper HTML link is almost always cleaner than “(see link below)”.

                            This is true, but practically no one does this. Certainly in the 10+ years I’ve been working in corporate environments, no one makes the effort to do a proper link.

                            The answer to “people always misuse HTML layout” isn’t to get rid of HTML layouts, it’s to teach people how to use it nicely!

                            That time has come and gone. The only way this is likely feasible is if you change the tools in some way. Teaching people to use something “correctly” when there are a myriad of (easy) ways to use it incorrectly is a losing battle.

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                            Sorry to be blunt, but I don’t think it’s good that plain text email is such a shibboleth that you can say the equivalent of “I prefer plain text email” without giving any justification or discussion, and it will be the top comment on an article.

                            There are good arguments against HTML email, there are good arguments that we should support some form of formatting, whether or not it’s HTML (see the sibling post by rtpg). Whichever view is right, I don’t think it should just be assumed without any attempt to argue for your opinion.

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                              I’m all for formatting. I regularly use markdown-style formatting in my plain text mails, and I’m an avid user of references[1] for links.

                              HTML formatting in emails is an abomination. Period. It’s a hack. It causes all kinds of issues; it enables phishing, automatic “read notifications” that you did not approve of and difficulties for people with a need for screen readers, just to name a few. Not to mention the security vulnerabilities in clients that have resulted from trying to support this crap.

                              [1] Like this.

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                              I agree but this is not realistic in a world where everyone usees Outlook. I swam against the tides and ran mutt at work for years, until one day I missed a critical update from my manager that used rich text to denote something in red.

                              IMO This is a lost cause, but feel free to rage against the dying of the light :)

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                                Up voted for poetry. :)

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                                  Alternatively, you can go work somewhere where the managers use mutt. :) https://boards.greenhouse.io/wikimedia/jobs/1623040

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                                    Yup it’s all about choices.

                                    I’m willing to run Outlook as my mailer and deal with a bit of large corporate white noise because the value I derive from working here far FAR outstrips those minor annoyances.

                                    Everybody has to do their own cost/value curve calculations though.

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                                    IMO This is a lost cause, but feel free to rage against the dying of the light :)

                                    Don’t worry; I will! https://p.hagelb.org/line.jpg

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                                      +10 for an entirely apropos ST:TNG

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                                      It is of course unfortunate that you missed such an important update. This is where it would make sense to use the Subject header to emphasize the importance of the message, such as the use of [URGENT] or [CRITICAL].

                                      I totally agree that this is a lost cause, but yeah, I will continue to fight for the cause :)

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                                        It is of course unfortunate that you missed such an important update. This is where it would make sense to use the Subject header to emphasize the importance of the message, such as the use of [URGENT] or [CRITICAL].

                                        It had that, but as I said in the post, it was like:

                                        Blahblahblah

                                        <SUPER CRITICAL STUFF IN RICH TEXT COLORED RED THAT MUTT CAN’T SEE>

                                        blahBLAHblahblah.

                                        So yeah, no hope at all other than “Don’t use rich text.”

                                        In my work environment, I know of literally maybe 2 people in a team of 150 who use mutt. I don’t know what the stats are for the wider company, but I know it’s a TINY fraction.

                                        Expecting my manager to cater to my needs and preferences to this extent is unreasonable in my book.

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                                          maybe 2 people in a team of 150 who use mutt

                                          OK, but how many are colorblind?

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                                            You’re preaching to the choir.

                                            I personally think leaving critical information to the vagaries of color is a mistake, but it wasn’t my call. I just need to roll with the punches and deal with the technology environment I’m given.

                                            Yes, I know, I could go work over at $PERFECT_COMPANY and all manner of things would be well, but having to run Outlook and deal with rich text in my E-mail isn’t enough to blunt what is otherwise a really compelling value prop for me in this job.

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                                    The most important realization I had about email at work is that is that it should be as simple and easy to understand as possible. In English class at school, we are rewarded for using “SAT words”, writing in paragraphs, and having an intro/conclusion. My rules:

                                    1. Be short, but not curt.
                                    2. Use lots of bullet points to help the reader see structure.
                                    3. Put in effort equaling the importance of the email. Typos/etc are okay for 1:1 email with your friend at work. Be much more careful when you’re emailing customers, your VP, etc.

                                    I’m not sure if I agree with bold/italics in emails. Use sparingly.

                                    Putting in dates everywhere might be overkill. People can always look at when the email was sent.

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                                      That aligns closely with process, which is:

                                      • write a long rough draft
                                      • ruthlessly edit for brevity
                                      • add politeness

                                      Politeness can seem like needless fluff, but when dealing with humans it is far from needless.

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                                      This is a great article, and I find it interesting that such cogent thoughts on the proper use of a medium are coming from a self professed non fan :)

                                      @iridakos - just curious - do you not prefer email because you want something more interactive, or for some other reason?

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                                        email

                                        Thank you @feoh. You guessed right, I prefer something more interactive and “searchable” like wiki pages or issues in issue tracking systems which among others they often present the stuff in a better layout than email threads (especially when it comes to history and references to other issues etc).

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                                        Nice tips. Two additions:

                                        • Use bold format sparingly. If more than a quarter of the text is in bold, that is not sparing use. There are examples in the post, where about half the text is bolder.
                                        • For emails over 4 paragraphs / 15-20 sentences, start with a “tl;dr” or “summary” section, summarising the takeaway, before diving into the details. It’s good practice to do this, regardless of the length of the email.
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                                          There are examples in the post, where about half the text is bolder.

                                          I think the advice to trim the text as much as possible is a little bit contradictory with the advice to bold the important bits. If you’ve already trimmed the message down to be very short then it’s probably not necessary to also highlight the important parts since, as you say, they now comprise half of the message. (If the message needs to be long then bolding is still a fine idea.)

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                                            Make it brief. Two or three sentences should be enough in most cases.

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                                              Good advice on the dates. I prefer my emails to look like a well-keyworded search engine query.

                                              Before:

                                              Dear Phoebe,

                                              I didn’t understand the process described on the issue about the logging bug. Irida’s comment was not very clear either. Can you please help me?

                                              Thanks,

                                              Lazarus

                                              After:

                                              Phobe,

                                              I didn’t understand <link to issue>, even with Irida’s comment. <Please, can you help me?>

                                              Thanks <optional name>

                                              Your name should be in the email headers.

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                                                In you “after” version, as a reader, I don’t know what issue you are talking about, where on the “before” version, I know it’s about “the issue about the logging bug”.

                                                I fear that you might end up with many similar emails, where only the link changes :(

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                                                  There would be a link to the issue.

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                                                    Yes, linking to the issue is good but for this particular type of comm, I prefer tagging people in the comment section of the issue. I’m assuming we are using something like github/gitlab/bitbucket/JIRA issue tracker system where comments are allowed, and you can tag people.