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The strengths and weaknesses of email

More notes from ‘Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home’ by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe published April 2007.

The strengths of email

1. Email works for exchanging essential information. (Who is coming to the meeting?)
2. You can reach almost anyone.
3. Email knows no time zones.
4. Email provides a searchable record.
5. You can craft your message on your terms and your schedule.
6. You can preserve and present parts or all of a string of existing emails.
7. You can attach and include additional information.

When I look at the strengths, I can easily see flipping some of those to be weaknesses. Maybe most important is whatever you write and send is preserved whether you like it or not. Don’t hit the send button too quickly.

Reasons you may not want to send email
1. The ease of email encourages unnecessary exchanges. Don’t over respond. Some people just want the last word. There’s a time to end emails. Do you stop by a colleague’s office every 10 minutes for a chat? When someone requests something you’ve already said you won’t do, it’s fine to stop responding. When a conversation is clearly over, you don’t need to reply.
2. Email should not replace all phone calls.
Rule: conveying an emotion, handling a delicate situation, testing the waters—all are usually better undertaken with the human voice.
3. You can reach everyone, but everyone can reach you. Email is so intimate and so easy that it makes unwise actions likely. Don’t assume instant familiarity.
4. Every email is an interruption. Forty percent of workers moved on to completely new tasks after they were interrupted, leaving their old task behind, neglected and unfinished.
5. You can be held accountable for your electronic correspondence. The authors’ rule is: If you’re working with weasels, watch their emails like a hawk.
6. Assume everything you write will be forwarded somewhere.
7. Your words or the sender’s original words can be changed. This is a nasty, nasty thing to do. The one instance I’ve heard about recently, I’d refer you to the rule in point 5.
8. Email attachments are baggage. Pack carefully and travel light. If you’re sending to someone you suspect might be on a handheld, provide a summary of what the attachment includes. That courtesy could be extended for all emails.


I have more electronic toys than Radio Shack myself, but when it comes to working outside the office I’d rather be surfing e-bay. The trouble is, when it comes to e-vile e-mail nobody can tell if you are really at work or not. I’ve found myself really commode-bound sick a couple times recently and still getting “sorry you’re sick, but could you just finish this one thing” emails from people. Had they been able to actually see, hear and smell the extent of my illness, I doubt they would have made such requests.
So though we are now always e-connected, we are becoming less and less e-motionally connected. There are few cues in email that can tell you if a person is sick, recently divorced or just having a bad day. The emoticons are really just too cute for most human emotions. You can also use ALL CAPS to get a point across but it’s hard to discern anger and emphasis. They are akin to dotting your “i” with a little heart in paper mail. There are so many cues we are missing that are even marginally more available on the phone.