Perfect @ e-mail

 

Email etiquette – or ‘Netiquette’ – is causing traditional letters writers to scratch their heads in consternation. For in less than five years, the advent of electronic mail has thrown many writing conventions out of the virtual window.

Even Debrett’s has recognised the dilemma and addressed the problem it in its 1996 Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, which suggests emails should be ‘less formal, [but not] at the expense of politeness’.

Steve Morris goes further in Perfect @ E-mail, putting forward not merely a style guide for e-communication, but the ethos behind that style. The book gives itself a slightly narrow remit by focusing primarily on customer relations, but nevertheless offers some interesting answers on how, when and why to use email.

Morris sees email as an opportunity to build new relationships between businesses and their customers. It is a chance to reach them on a more personal level and a cost-free way to reinforce the company’s branding. With the right tone of voice, you can capture the attention and respect of your readers.

Unfortunately, Morris has failed to heed his own advice on how to use language effectively. One precept, ‘write always with the reader in mind’, sits uncomfortably with an inexplicable mid-book digression on post-structuralism. And his key principle – never patronise your reader – rings rather hollow in the first chapter, with the assumption readers have no knowledge of using electronic mail.

Morris adopts a tone too flippant and chatty for the reader – who he assumes to be in business – for them to take his ‘rules’ very seriously. This is unfortunate as there is much here that would benefit from a more organised and consistent approach. ‘With email there is no rule, which is good news,’ says Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times, ‘as there is money to be made in making a few up.’

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