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Saturday, October 8, 2011

20 questions you must ask yourself before you hit the "Send" button

"The spelling in e-mail is rotten, the grammar is atrocious, the punctuation — don't ask. No wonder people who love language are wringing their hands and saying the computer has been a disaster for the written word."

Truer words were never spoken.

To help us fix our e-mail bloopers, language mavens Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman, whose quote appears above, wrote a book which was published as far back as — would you believe it? — 2003. Eight years on, the points made in You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online are still valid.

CAN YOU FIGURE OUT WHICH PUNCTUATION MARKS ARE MISSING?

Now, to test your e-mail IQ, Grammarphobia.com has put together 20 questions, based on O'Conner and Kellerman's book, that you should ask yourself before you hit "Send". All 20 questions — and explanations — are available here. The ones I found particularly helpful are given below:

1. Is the subject line helpful?
2. Is the language clear?
3. Did you say what you're replying to?
4. Did you break for paragraphs?
5. Did you read it again?
6. Did you check the grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

Simple, practical, and easy-to-apply advice. Why didn't we think of it ourselves?
  • Illustration courtesy: HootSuite. 
UPDATE (January 6, 2014): "Use lowercase type with capitals where capitals are called for. Lowercase is easier to read than all caps, but don’t go to extremes and omit capitals altogether. Friends may not mind, but a business colleague may interpret lack of capitalisation as evidence of lack of education or energy." — Some helpful advice from Maeve Maddox on the excellent Daily Writing Tips blog. Read the post in its entirety here: "E-mail Matters".
UPDATE (January 9, 2014):  Can spelling mistakes and bad e-mail etiquette help you get ahead? Yes, says Kevin Roose, in a column he wrote on his blog (and which I spotted when I logged on to my LinkedIn account today). Roose uses the example of the e-mail sent to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by Snapchat's Evan Spiegel to elaborate on the subject. Read his post here: "How Spelling Mistakes and Bad E-mail Etiquette Can Help You Get Ahead".