As a writing coach, I’m often asked whether I think writing standards are slipping
After all, technology makes it increasingly easy for us to evade real writing skill.
Wrote a sloppy sentence that might sound harsh? Just compensate with a goofy-faced emoji. Spelling a little off-key? Just keep going; auto-correct will do your job. Words lacking cut-through on social media? Add a cute puppy photo and you’re sorted.
Since I wasn’t around in the 1950s – or the 1650s, for that matter – I can’t speculate on what the average person was writing at the time. I can only go by the literature of the day.
And frankly, I do prefer the lucid style of Steinbeck to the florid style of Shakespeare. Equally, the writing style of academia at any point in history is nothing to yearn for.
However, something I see emerging in people’s writing now is an erosion of respect for others. Sure, sometimes we need to say things as they are. But in an era of ‘fake it til’ you make it’, people forget they still need to bow to hierarchy, protocol, systems or priorities that exclude sweet little them, the senders of a demanding or outraged message.
5 most common business email assassins
So, in no particular order, here are some absolute charmers I’ve come across through the hundreds of workshop participants I’ve trained in recent years.
- The Potty-mouth Princess
“I have no idea what you f**king people have done with my f**king transfer application and as you f**king won’t answer my emails, have no f**king idea what to do about getting the f**king credit I deserve for the f**king studies I’ve done so far.
“I’m sorry I had to be so forceful here, but have no other way to make my point.” – Undergraduate, emailing to the admin staff at a major university (curse-words not bleeped out in original email)
If you find yourself swearing at anyone, ever, in a professional situation, just don’t expect to get a particularly helpful response. Instead, expect the email to land straight in their junk mail settings (workplace filters look for things like swearing). Or wait to get a call from their lawyer. That’s all.
- The Matey Maaaaate
“Hey, when you’re done with the install just buzz me to come back and check, cause I’m just gonna take a lunch break now.” – Junior carpenter, emailing the CEO of an office fitout specialist during a project
Such a profound sense of entitlement here. If you’re not going to make yourself indispensable, by actually doing your job for the boss, at least use a brilliantly perceptive tone in justifying your reasons why.
- The All-cap Empress
!!!!!!!!! URGENT !!!!!!!!! When can you process the application for Client 123456 – Email subject line from an immigration agent, writing to government department
So, you think your message is the most important of 173 ‘urgent’ items in your recipient’s in-box? Well then, we suggest you sit back, relax and re-read the organisation’s Ts and Cs about response times. Once the addressee has stopped howling with laughter, gasping in outrage or sharing your rudeness with 20 others, they might just write you back – next month. Long after they’ve written back to the other 172 others before you.
- The Carbon-copy Clown
“I’m guessing [client] wants his stupid logo extra big as always, so I’ve gone and done that already.” – Graphic designer to content manager, before the whole email chain was forwarded to the client
Those email chains that grow and grow, then get cc’d and forwarded to at least 10 other teams? Yep, they’re potentially rife with relationship-breakers like this one, lurking way down at the bottom of 27 emails. Never add to a chain. Whenever you can, start a fresh email log instead.
- The Sweeping Generalist
“The company has a dictatorial management style, with most staff excluded from decision-making. – Newbie in a board report submission to her boss
Okay, so sometimes we have to deliver bad news. But when that’s done in public (and yes, a report is public), word choice becomes extra important. Does that business leader really want their best people to see them linked to terms like tyranny, bullying, failure or harassment? Choose more diplomatic words – ‘top-down management style’ rather than ‘dictatorial’, for example – and devote your word-count to talking more about the solutions, not the problems.
I’d love to hear about any more pearlers from your organisation. Feel free to comment below, or flick us a friendly email. And if you want to learn more, try one of our business writing courses at CCE, The University of Sydney.