Thursday, January 27, 2011

An email I wish I could send...

Dear VP of IS,

Let me get this straight. Did you really just send out an email to the entire University community with a 17KB Word Document attachment that contained 518 characters of information? Really?

Then let me propose an exercise for you. Please find an empty classroom and write the following sentence on the board: “I am a bandwidth-wasting moron who is highly paid to pretend to know something about technology.” Write it five times, and that will be a bit over 500 characters. Then repeat those five lines seventeen thousand times or until the magnitude of your ineptitude sinks in, whichever comes first.

Note: You may need to find several classrooms and a shitload of whiteboard markers.


  1. This is one of those things I don't get. Do do those in administrivia think that the word document carries more gravitas? Or do they really require some sort of training to edit email directly?

  2. At least twice a week I wonder if someone at my institution is lamenting, "Why did so few people come to our illustrious guest speaker's talk on basketweaving? Her work is world renowned! We sent out a poster as an email attachment to so many campus listservs!"

    Seriously, giving your email a subject line like, "Poindexter P. Hufflepuff 2011 Memorial Lecture" and filling your message field with no more than "Please see attachment" is not going to get me there.

  3. I posted this at the old site too. Sorry for the rerun. Works for the academy and other work places. Fits students, proffies and admin types too...

    Every professional environment has its own approach towards email. In knowledge-based organizations, employees are deeply reliant on email. Some in these organizations can remember a time when they did not have an email queue to manage (in addition to people and projects). Consider the two or more hours a day --time that once could have been spent developing employees or advancing mission-- “the tyranny of the inbox”.

    * Is this email necessary? If the recipient sits within visual range and the transaction can be accomplished with a face to face transaction: consider that method instead. If you can’t see the intended recipient: do they have a telephone, and can it substitute for the email you are about to send?

    * Is this attachment necessary? My system administrators turn off my ability to send mail when my inbox exceeds 100 MB in size. The attachment you just sent with large images may force me to stop work and create new personal folders to get out of the penalty box. Similarly, if you’re going to scan a document and send me a .pdf: please use settings that reduce the file size instead of bloating it. Got shared network space, a wiki or web space? Send me the link instead. I have enough files already.

    * What’s the *real* subject. Please don’t send email with cryptic subject lines: “Question” is among my favorites. Tell me what your question is or what your story is about in the subject line.

    * (For communications from non-organizational machines): Please get an email address (from your Internet provider, Yahoo, or Google) that tells me who you are. “ or “” doesn’t do this. Save those addresses for your friends and family. For professional communications: please use *your* name in the address.

    * When you send me an email: don’t assume I’m sitting at my computer staring at my incoming mail queue all day long. I might be in a meeting. I might be writing something that’s *not* email; I turn off my email client when I do this. I might be talking with a coworker or walking around to find out what the newest challenges this day has brought to the 32 employees I’m responsible for. Even if it’s really “Urgent” and even if it really is “Response required”, please don’t assume I’m reading it in the minute after you send it. Email is for time-shifted, asynchronous communication. If it’s really urgent: call me or visit me.

    * Format your email as plain text please. HTML and Outlook rich text fonts don’t necessarily render faithfully in non-Windows, non-Outlook email tools. Don’t assume everybody is using one.

    • Most modern email tools have excellent rules-based filtering. I may well have one set up for you; consider doing the same for me.

    * Got sensitive, personnel-privileged content in your email? Remember: it’s all subject to Privacy Act and Equal Opportunity queries. I’m happy to place all my decisions up for scrutiny; be sure that you are too.

  4. What's funny here is that Compost indicated this would go to the "VP of IS"... you would think they would know better.

    And they don't. Really. Like reallllly they don't.

    Die, IT, die.

  5. Amen, Dr D!

    I usually get either a cryptic email that may or may not contain a complete sentence, or they send a Pretty Damn Fat (PDF) file with nice pictures in them they forgot to downsample. And then bitch at me for going over quota.

    We also have people who don't understand how to use subject lines, people who reply to the email address, people who send monstrous attachments instead of a link, and folks who CC me on everything they do, just in case.

    I'm seriously considering going back to paper and envelopes, except the in-house mail system still uses horses, I think.

  6. If the recipient sits within visual range and the transaction can be accomplished with a face to face transaction: consider that method instead. If you can’t see the intended recipient: do they have a telephone, and can it substitute for the email you are about to send?

    An email gives you an audit trail to prove that you said it when the other person's inaction causes the shit to hit the fan down the line.


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