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Is Email a New Genre of Writing?

by Richard Capone

If you are reading this article, then undoubtedly you are a person who is using the Internet on a regular basis to gain information for business and personal reasons. Furthermore, you probably use email continually for communications with friends, family, and colleagues. But did you ever stop to think that email may be a new genre of writing? If this is the case, then it probably deserves to be taught in secondary school as an essential writing category. Not doing so could put teenagers and young adults at a disadvantage.

Below are my recommendations for how I would teach an email-writing course. I would break it into three main categories, outlined below.

Area one is the obvious “netiquette,” which is the term for email etiquette. We have all seen those inappropriate emails when someone “replies to all” instead of just to the sender. Or how about those LONG emails that just won’t end? So this area would focus on some common sense logistics that need to be followed in order to avoid disasters and make your emails more effective.

Area two is clarifying the language rules of email writing. For example, email writing should not be confused with instant messaging or texting. While most adults are transitioning to email writing from business writing, most young people will be transitioning from instant messaging to email. When I see an email with “cus,” “ur,” or “u,” I cringe! So this area will cover the fact that regular grammar rules apply to business email communication, as well as a whole slew of other rules.

Area three is teaching email voice. In my business communications, I have been shocked to discover that some people read every email (at least from me) in a confrontational voice. For these people, whom I call “email angry” people, I add extra language to make them realize that I am not actually angry. Perhaps it is because they misinterpret my short, concise emails as being abrupt and rude? In a few extreme cases, I have consciously decided to refrain from email altogether; instead, I pick up the phone and call these people. My hope is that by teaching email voice, fewer people will misinterpret email tone and more people will write emails whose tone will likely be interpreted accurately.

On a final note--since I am, after all, the CEO of an assessment company--I think I am going to have to add a new assessment to our future product list: DOESA. It will stand for Diagnostic Online Email Skills Assessment. We would have three sub-tests: Netiquette, Language, and Voice. My personal favorite diagnosis will be what we can extract via miscue analysis from the “Voice” sub-test. Depending on the pattern of incorrect responses, I predict that we will be able to recommend anger management training, psychological evaluation, or a “good to go” diagnosis. LOL. That is IM vocabulary for “laughing out loud.” Oops--I’m crossing my genres!

P.S. In case my “voice” wasn’t coming across, I have very dry sense of humor! But I am serious about this new assessment! wink

Tags: writing genre, email writing, email business writing, email assessment

Comments
  1. Gman
    Reply 03/04/13

    Fact is email and internet writing makes people sloppy. Not great for kids!

  2. Katherine Pisana
    Reply 11/17/10

    A decline in communication quality can mirror a decline in society - the way we engage with one another, the care we take in constructing messages that are actually worth sharing. I’m more and more of the mind that becoming ‘faced-paced’ is nothing to be proud of, and I’m a technologist, so my having that perspective says a lot. It’s not as though I reject technology and all things connected. On the contrary, I make a living off of technology and am very grateful for its affordances. Yes, texting may get a message across with fewer characters, but how many of us are evaluating the quality of our messages? Perhaps if virtual real estate weren’t free, we would take better care of the way in which we occupied it.

  3. Richard Capone
    Reply 11/17/10

    Katherine:
    Good point on what is appropriate and when.  That would need to be included as well.

    It’s a tough call on what is acceptable in terms of diminished language.  I agree that the more one communicate in slang, the more acceptable it becomes.
    But then again is the decline in communication “quality” a result of weakening standards or a does it mirror society itself? Our society has become a fast-paced one in which many of us are on the go and have constant access to the Internet and information. So is our language changing to meet this need?  My son would argue that his texting slang is more efficient since he can get his meaning across in less characters. 

    Well I guess we’ll have to ponder this one some more.  Thanks for the comments to this article!

  4. Katherine Pisana
    Reply 11/16/10

    This is such an interesting idea Richard! Would you also consider adding a fourth area on ‘Attachments and Links - what’s appropriate and when’? I assume that ‘Response Times’ would be covered in the ‘Netiquette’ section as the decrepit rate at which so many (including myself) respond to messages needs to be addressed. But, to our defense, at least we respond!

    Offering a course in this would be most interesting indeed, as would testing email skills during job interviews!

    And to Manizha’s point, I think there is a huge problem in finding it acceptable to diminish the level at which we communicate as a society. Without standards, how will communication look decades from now? Or are we saying that we are to today’s youth, what Shakespearean language is to today’s literate?

    Richard, if you’re looking for someone to moderate the course, look me up!

  5. merlin
    Reply 09/07/10

    Many young people today would benefit from a course like this.  You are correct in saying many young people are transitioning from IM and text messages to email in a work environment….

  6. Mary w
    Reply 04/20/10

    I get email inquiries about volunteer work as tutors from HS and college students who use no capitalization or punctuation except at the end.

    I have to really fight with myself not to pre-judge them.  They might be great with the kids, but I’ll teach them a mni-course in e-mail correspondence outside their social age/circles.

  7. Communication Skills
    Reply 03/26/10

    I know my writing is not perfect, but I do attempt to use real words when I send emails.  Many young people today would benefit from a course like this.  You are correct in saying many young people are transitioning from IM and text messages to email in a work environment.

  8. Hollywood Public Relations
    Reply 03/08/10

    We have all seen those inappropriate emails when someone “replies to all” instead of just to the sender. Or how about those LONG emails.

  9. Compliance Monitoring
    Reply 01/31/10

    I know my writing is not perfect, but I do attempt to use real words when I send emails.  Many young people today would benefit from a course like this.

  10. Richard Capone
    Reply 01/12/10

    Fanniebeth, CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer in this case. 
    Manizha, yes if I receive a “u, ur, or cus” in an email from an informal source I wouldn’t think it was a problem.

  11. Manizha
    Reply 01/12/10

    Most of the people write “u, ur, cus” in informal e-mails, not in a formal e-mails i think.
    Than its no problem if the receiver of an informal e mail understands you. Right?

  12. fanniebeth
    Reply 11/14/09

    Sorry guys, what is CEO? I’ve searched in acronymserach and I found out that CEO can be Chief Executive Officer, Council of Economic Advisors, Centre for Earth Observation. Which one do you mean?

  13. Heidi Ashworth
    Reply 10/26/09

    I agree—people seem to have some real communication problems as a result of email misinterpretation.  I think you are on to something.

  14. Shelby Shafffffffffffer
    Reply 09/18/09

    I ALWAYS USE LOL AND U AND CUS IN EMAILS!

    OKAYBYE

  15. Amanda
    Reply 08/28/09

    I completely agree with you on this!  Being in my early 20s, I see many of these emails from friends.  I know my writing is not perfect, but I do attempt to use real words when I send emails.  Many young people today would benefit from a course like this.  You are correct in saying many young people are transitioning from IM and text messages to email in a work environment.  These young adults need to realize that internet slang doesn’t portray them as intelligent when they write it in an email to anyone they don’t know on a personal level.

  16. Lee Kim
    Reply 07/02/09

    LOL

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