What to avoid in emails

I recently read an article (German: Die nervigsten E-Mail-Gewohnheiten) on what to avoid in emails from the otherwise excellent DerStandard.at that I found poor and undifferentiatedThe article is apparently based on a mashup of Adobe.com and Swiss newspaper survey results. They also referenced this guardian article, which is a lot funnier, so I think a lot got lost in translation. Anyway it prompted me to write this reply:

It makes a difference who you are talking to

"I am not sure if you have read my last email" apparently creates lots of frustration.

translated derstandard.at/2000086500996/Mail-schon-gelesen-Die-nervigsten-E-Mail-Gewohnheiten

If you are talking to a colleague, customer, investor or boss it is perfectly fine to send a reminder if he/she doesn't reply in 1 week or so. Sometimes it's even your duty to check up why the other guy is not taking action. "I am wondering if you got my email" is a perfectly polite way to express that.

It's a different story if you get illegal spam emails from Eastern European outsourcing companies. Of course they will followup with annoying "did you get my messages" emails. They do so not because they want to be polite, but because it works for them in ways they care about. It raises their success rate, selling their services. They face little to no consequences for abusing the system.

Rerferencing pervious oral communication

Especially the hint that something was communicated before seems to create anger, because respondents also voted for "as mentioned before" and "as discussed"

translated derstandard.at/2000086500996/Mail-schon-gelesen-Die-nervigsten-E-Mail-Gewohnheiten

No, no, no. This is not impolite. It's a good practice to reference oral communication in a written followup. First of all you want to remind the other person that what you are writing is not the full story. And secondly it can help you in legal arguments when suddenly the other person can't "remember" any more what you talked about.

Referencing a previous email can be a little daunting, but has its uses when you want to point out that this is not the first time the issue was raised.

Excessive "CCing" (sending email to more recpients)

the habit to CC countless coworkers, even if it's often not obvious, how this person is related to the topic.

translated derstandard.at/2000086500996/Mail-schon-gelesen-Die-nervigsten-E-Mail-Gewohnheiten

Of course CCing is a balance act. But when CCing, always err on CCing more people. It's much more annoying to not know about something that you should know, than to getting extra (unnecessary) information. Especially if one is so easily to correct for while the other one isn't.

It's good practice that when the discussion gets too detailed, to clean up the CC-list. E.g. you CCed your boss in the project kickoff email, but then your counterpart replies with project details that you don't want to bother your boss with. You would at the next reply move your boss from CC to BCC. And mention in the email body that you have done so. This way, the person you just moved to BCC is aware that he/she has been removed from the email thread but the discussion is still ongoing. The other people know that the person moved to BCC still got the last email. And the next time someone Replys he/she won't get spamed any more.

If you are the target of unnecessary email, and you can't afford to keep up, do the same but with yourself.

Interrupting the recipient at his desk with an immediate followup to your email

if a colleague sends an email and a short time period later shows up at the desk of the recipient to tell him/her about the email.

translated derstandard.at/2000086500996/Mail-schon-gelesen-Die-nervigsten-E-Mail-Gewohnheiten

This one is actually true. But what the article doesn't mention is that while it's annoying for the recipient, it's completely devastating for the impatient sender.

Why? Because if you send an email, you should put time into writing it. Why then approach the recipient before he/she has even read it?
Moreover the recipient will then immediately reply orally, and might not address all the points that you (the sender) have made in your email. But he will not see a need any more to reply to your email, because "you already talked about it" anyway.

If you must have an immediate response prefer call, or instant messaging. Email is only for communication that doesn't require immediate action. If you feel the need to both write and talk (e.g. for legal reasons, or so you don't forget what was discussed), always talk first, never email first.

If the article is so bad what are some more points to actually watch out for?

The most important: Reply within 2 days, or set an out of office reply. If you can't reply within 2 days send a "sorry I am busy" email.

Always "Reply all", never "reply single". If you reply single you are breaking the email thread. And you are now personally responsible for creating unnecessary "did you do this already?" replies and "out of the loop" persons.
There's nothing more annoying than having to repeat yourself, or having to repair the chain by replying again and manually copy-pasting the addresses back in because some idiot can't be bothered to reply correctly.

Before you start typing ask yourself what the goal of this email is. Then write accordingly.

Always write email as succinctly as possible. Put the most important sentence first.

Thank your correspondents. I am convinced that you should always appreciate when people take time to read or reply. And when you show that it goes a long way.

Write the email how you think the message will be best understood by the reader, not how you would summarize it to yourself.

Always ask yourself "would this email get me into trouble if it ended up in court?" before hitting "send".

I highly recommend this book: HBR Guide to Better Business Writing

    Why I started blogging – and you should too!

    This is a 4 or 5 part blog-post on why I started blogging. Most of this I wrote already a year ago, but then I never had the follow-through to publish it.

    Short answer:

    Because I get angry at myself if I don’t. Because I wanted to for years. And now is the time I start.

    Done > Perfect.

    No, seriously? Why would I blog? After all it takes valuable time!

    1. I have thought about a million topics. I am the kind of guy who will really dig into a topic for a few days. Then use the knowledge once, or twice, without making much notes and then moving to the next topic - often without anything to show for it.
    2. Because it is healthy to have a balanced radio of content you consume vs content you produce. Consume less, produce more!
    3. One on one talks don’t scale. This is my way of reaching more people.
    4. Because it’s important to share with the world what you created. For years I thought naively "well but if I document what I have done, will this not help my competition?" It is a very rare that keeping what you are doing stealth mode is the right choice. And getting feedback is more valuable. I am not applying that learning to my blogging so far.
    5. Because I forget. Like a lot. And it's nice to have something to look back on if you want to remember something.
    6. Because it’s great to reflect on how you thought a year ago. Thoughts change. It’s great to have a reference. And it’s important to measure your own progress and about increasing communication between the past, present and future you.
    7. Too much of what I did I can not show because it was done for work and I don't have the rights to it. So I don’t have a public documentation to show everyone. So I want to offset this with this blog and more public github publishing.
    8. I get annoyed by people I speak to wanting me to prove myself over and over again. I want to have something to point them to as a track record.
    9. I get annoyed not being invited as speaker sometimes. (Entitlement much?)
    10. Because I tend to do everything in pure Depth-first search fashion - I drilling down into a topic in depth, which should lend itself to interesting posts. (see 2.)
    11. Because loads of very smart people tell you [weasel words]
      it’s really important[peacock term] to practice your writing skill.[citation needed]
    12. If you write it down, it's science. Otherwise it's just fooling around.
    13. Because I don't want you to make the same mistakes as me
    14. And because I want to spread knowledge and recommendations
    15. To get customers or employment opportunities.

    What do I want to blog on?

    1. The 20 years + of constantly digging into a technical topic.
    2. I often make deep thoughts about our society. But usually I tell it to one or two guys and then move on with my life.
    3. I created one of the earlier "startups" in 2010 in Vienna called indoo.rs, and had a tone of experience there as CTO and in the board. But I never shared it broadly. I gave rarely any talks. And usually people are surprised by my ideas when I tell them one on one.
    4. To document projects and what I do with my free time: learning languages, building electronics, working, studying, relationship, research, programming, hiking.
    5. Relationships and dating.
    6. I wanted to blog every time I took on a new hobby like ham radio
    7. I wanted to blog about politics and consumer protection
    8. The things I learned consulting different office dynamics and different organisational structures I saw with customers.
    9. (My own) failures.
    10. Travel
    11. The millions of shower thoughts 😉
    12. Attention/Eyeballs economy, Innovator's dilemma, founder dynamics, customers, marketing, .....
    13. I was at funeral some time ago and people were disgustingly unaware of what the dead guy was like when he was still alive. I fear it's quite common. So this is also some kind of attempt to document what kind of person I am and what I humbly think I have figured out so far.

    This list is far from complete or well structured. But the point is those are a very broad selection of topics. That plays into "Post 3: Implementation, how did I decide to blog?"

    Why not just use Facebook, Twitter, Medium?

    First of all they are really good at what they do respectively. But

    1. I want to own the format. At Facebook, it's Facebook that decides which links get a preview. Which content gets which font size. What background you can chose for your text.
    2. When I signed up years ago on Facebook around 2011/2012 I can remember I was already annoyed that I can’t have have my own music playing on Facebook, like I would have been able to, if it was “my own” website. I want freedom. Don’t worry I won’t torture you with music (yet).
    3. Because I want to own the channel to the reader. I don’t want to be at the mercy of Facebook where the machine learning algorithm of the month decides who will see a notification about my post.
    4. I don't want to license my content to Facebook.

    Does that mean that I will stop posting to Facebook and Twitter? On the contrary! More about this in the followup posts:

    Part 2: The downsides of blogging and why you still should do it regardless.

    Post 3: Implementation, how did I decide to blog?

    Post 4: Twitter, Facebook, Social, how it all ties together. What I learned so far.