Wednesday, June 2, 2010

E-mail courtesy and techniques

“Hi, I’m Bob and I’m an e-mail abuser.”

“Hi, Bob.”

Those of us active on blogs and the net are over-whelmed with e-mail. Many days I get over 300 on my three addresses, as I subscribe to feeds and searches to feed my blog, and have a lot of professional and personal correspondents. Here are some tips that will help you—and those you send to—be less frustrated with e-mail. And make you a better person, or at least better liked.

Before forwarding an e-mail, try to check out if it’s legitimate. Some of the ways you can spot the hoaxes that clutter our in-boxes:

1. If it tells you to forward it to everyone, be suspicious. Virus hoaxes and political hoaxes often start out this way. And, chances are, everyone doesn’t want it! ALL CAPS WITH LOTS OF!!!!!! are another huge red flag. It’s like the cowboys firing their guns in the air and shouting to stampede the herd. Don’t be part of the herd.

2. If it tells you that something good or bad will happen to you if you forward or don’t forward, delete it. And, no, there’s no way to track e-mail forwards so someone can give you money or save a child’s life.

3. If is sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true. Duh. Conversely, if it sounds really horrible, but you haven’t seen it on any legitimate news or websites that you trust, chances are you are forwarding a lie. Which makes you part of the lie, and thus tarnishes your reputation for integrity. If you have one.

4. Does it come with a link to a reputable news or Internet site? Is it signed by a real person? If you can’t trace it, there’s a good chance you are forwarding a lie.

5. Google the title or key words. Can you find a link to a reputable site? And not just to blogs that uncritically post every e-mail they get that supports their viewpoint.

6. Remember there are a lot of people on the Internet, left and right, with the ethics of slugs, and that a talented Photoshop artist can put you in a picture with Stalin and make people think you were there. Forwarding fake copies of Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate or Palin’s bad high school report card makes you look like a slug too, and actually helps the cause you oppose by discrediting your side, just as the forgeries about George Bush that Dan Rather put on TV helped Bush in 2004.

7. Check the hoax sites like,, and, or or Yes, I’ve read the e-mails saying that Snopes or FactCheck are leftwing front groups. No site is perfect, but Snopes exposed the fake Palin report cards and FactCheck just slammed a Democrat senate candidate for something said about her Republican opponent. So I keep an open mind, but find them useful.

8. Don’t be gullible. I got a report this week from a friend that quoted Russian sources about something terrible Obama was doing. Apparently none of the Republican congressmen fighting Obama, the many conservative columnists attacking him or the hundreds of bloggers hitting him had noticed, but the Russians did!

9. Never give out personal info, especially SS numbers or Credit Card numbers. Any e-mail asking for these is a Phishing scam. Period.

Here are some other tips to make you more popular.

1. When you send to a group of people, put their e-mail addresses in the BBC line. They won’t then clutter your e-mail, and you won’t be distributing your friends’ addresses around the net for Spammers or Phishers. Likewise, when you forward an e-mail, it’s only polite to highlight and delete the address of the person it came from and other e-mail addresses as well if the sender(s) didn’t follow the BCC courtesy0 rule. It makes your message easier to read (thus more likely to be read), and is the polite thing to do. It also means people sending flaming e-mails back to you don’t hit everyone.

2.I get those patriotic/military e-mails that say, “I’m not breaking this one if I have to forward it 1,000 times.” Forwarding anything 1,000 times makes you an idiot, period, though the threshold for feeble-minded is much lower. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it. Most of us are seeing things like this dozens of times from different sources. Yes, we all forget and forward things more than once, but don’t do it dilibertly.

3. Likewise, see if something has a date when first forwarded. If it looks like it’s been forwarded a lot of times, there’s a good chance your friends have seen it several times and will groan when your e-mail hits their box. You may be at the far e-end of the e-mail chain.

4. The friends I really appreciate are finding new stuff on news sites and opinion sites like American Thinker, and forwarding to me. Even if I already saw it myself, or got it from another correspondent, at least it’s new. (Hat tip to Del, Larry W, Ron P and Dave H who send me several new things to feed my blog every day.) Then there are the folks who are at the end of the food chain, who only seem to get stuff that’s been out on the net for weeks, months or years. Yes, there are some friends whose e-mails I just delete, because I know with 99% certainty I’ve seen it before.

5. Don’t send links to videos or articles without telling something about them. I and most of your friends have limited time. Before I invest the time to open a video, I want to know if I’ve seen it, if it’s something new, and if it’s something I’m interested in. Some days I have time for looking at funny or cute videos, some days not. If you tell me nothing, I assume it’s not worth my time and delete it.

6. It is not necessary to comment on or say thanks for every e-mail you get. That only leads to clutter.

Below is an article I wrote a few years ago, that was published in a number of newsletters, on managing e-mail. It may help you control this time-eater better.

Twelve Tips to Tame the E-mail Tiger
Robert A. Hall, CAE

When you picked it up, it was a cute little kitten, fun, friendly, and no trouble. Now it’s grown into a tiger, devouring large chucks of your day, clawing you from time to time, and hard to control.

It’s the E-mail Tiger. Remember when technology was going to save us time? Add that to, “The Check’s in the Mail” as one of the great lies.

Yes, E-mail is a wonderful tool. So is a chainsaw. Both require careful handling. Below are twelve tips for turning e-mail from a bad master into a good servant.

1. Remember that e-mail creates a trail and a record. It can be traced back to you. It can be forwarded by the recipient, accidentally or maliciously. Because of the ease of copying and forwarding, it’s much more likely than a letter to be seen by eyes it was not intended for. If you wouldn’t put a thought into a letter, don’t put it in e-mail. Think, “Would I be comfortable if this e-mail message was passed around my next board or staff meeting?” If the answer is no, think twice. “E-slander” is as actionable as any other kind.

2. Establish separate business and personal e-mail addresses. Especially, try to keep your business address from your joke-sending friends. It’s too easy for that off-color or ethnic joke, which you didn’t originate and maybe didn’t even like, to slip into the business system if it’s on your work computer. Almost all jokes offend someone, or can be used by folks who want to appear to have been offended. Keep the personal at home. You may also wish to create different screen names for web surfing, as “spammers” harvest e-mail addresses from visited websites.

3. Remember that e-mail can be edited. The e-mail you send saying, “My boss is a great guy” can be changed to “My boss is a fat Twinkie” and forwarded. There’s not much you can do about a sociopath who totally changes your message or creates a new one over your name, except to try to catch up with the lie. But much more common is the taking of key remarks out of context and responding to them. The recipient may not think that this is wrong, and often it’s not. But quoting only part of an e-mail message, especially in a dispute, can’t help but put a “spin” on the context. Is there something in the message that, if quoted out of context and responded to, would do harm? Think a third time.

4. Use the “Reply” and “Reply all” buttons carefully. Is your response something that everyone on the list should see? Hit “Reply All,” as this will save the recipient the trouble of forwarding it, and eliminate the danger of selective forwarding.

Conversely, is this a reply just to the sender, which will only be clutter to the other recipients? Hit “Reply.” More importantly, is your reply confidential? Hit “Reply.” Or, worse, is it insulting to someone on the list? See tip number one! Always check the “To” list on the message before you hit “Send.” Someday that habit will save you embarrassment—or perhaps your job.

5. Make a hard copy, when needed. E-mail on your computer will eventually be deleted, and will certainly become hard to find in the clutter. I once had a staff member who printed and filed every e-mail message. She was a hard worker in many other unproductive ways as well. But paper copies of some e-mail messages should be in your files. Copy messages such as instructions to do something that might be controversial, your response to hot political issues, or notes of praise for your personnel file. Almost every week I find myself searching for, and often not finding, an e-mail message from a few weeks or months back. Save paper copies of those that really matter.

6. Create folders. Don’t let your incoming messages pile up in your in-box. Create perhaps one folder for board members’ messages, one for items to be permanently saved, one for staff messages, one for each of a few special topics or programs (such as a political issue), and one for general mail. Also create a “personal” box, for those personal messages that slip through, despite your compartmentalized social and professional addresses. Clean this file out regularly. Leave only current messages still requiring answers or action in your in-box. Delete those immediately that you know you’ll not need, and drag the rest to the proper folder. You wouldn’t leave every piece of paper that came in for a year piled on your desk, would you?

7. Clean out the folders. Except for the “Save Permanently” file, I try to clean out all messages over six months old once a month. Yes, I’ve wished I had messages I deleted. But it also means I can find the more current ones a lot faster. (Thank goodness for the “Find” feature in Outlook, or I’d never locate older messages.)

8. Respond promptly. People expect faster replies to e-mail messages than to letters or even phone calls. If you can’t get them the info or take the action they want right away, let then know you are working on it. Use the “auto-reply” feature when you are going to be out of the office for more than a day. And check your business e-mail more than once a day, but don’t drive yourself nuts interrupting your other work every time “you’ve got mail” dings.

9. Put an automatic signature on every e-mail message you send. It’s a mark of courtesy and courage to sign your correspondence. It also helps people who get a forwarded message to know from whom it came. If I signed my messages “Bob,” someone down the line might, just possibly, know another “Bob.”

A signature also lets you put your mission statement, conference dates or other note on the bottom of your messages. At home, I’ve created several signatures with pithy quotes after my contact info.

10. Create a letterhead in your word processing program. That allows you to send professional-looking letters as attachments, with your scanned-in signature as well. It’s a great convenience.

11. Think about the subject line. For something not very important, I add “FYI” before the subject. I also use “PLEASE RESPOND” and “CONFIDENTIAL” after typing in the subjects, to alert my recipients to what I need from them.

12. Those guys in Nigeria? They don’t really have THIRTY TWO MILLION US DOLLARS in TRAPPED FUNDS they want to share with you.


Robert A. Hall, MEd, CAE, has been an association executive since 1982. Prior to entering the profession, he served five terms in the Massachusetts state senate.


  1. "...just as the forgeries about George Bush that Dan Rather put on TV helped Bush in 2004."

    Uh... that was a pretty good column, except...

    That part above? No one ever actually showed those faxes were forgeries. All the technical objections to them were shown to be false.

    Though they did help Bush, as Rather had a good solid item he was supposed to report on that evening. Instead they went with the memos, and the real issue never got covered.

    To this day no one knows the actual origin of the memos, but there is good evidence a Rove operative put them in play to screw up Rather's report.

    Read Greg Palast's books.

  2. just want to share what i usually do with forwards that i get. once they've been checked for accuracy/truthfulness. i highlight and copy the body of the message, then i send individual emails to those i think will be interested in it.

    So if i have 5 different friends that i want to see the said email message, i send out 5 different messages all with only 1 recipient. if the message isn't too long to be copied then it hardly takes any time at all to copy the message into 5 emails to be sent out to 1 recipient each!

    This is just my personal opinion and also my personal preference. Maybe i have more time than other people, but i just find this system i use is much more appreciated by those i correspond with. Sorry if this comment is too long. :)