Most effective collaboration systems center on the exchange of simple text messages through e-mail or discussion groups. Even when audioconferencing and videoconferencing are available, many learners still prefer the simplicity, convenience, and record keeping of text messages.
This example is a guide to messaging. It is written to learners but applies to instructors as well.
Guide to writing, sending, and managing messages
To learn effectively in this course, you will need to collaborate with fellow learners and with your instructor. Your primary means of collaboration will be through discussion-group postings and e-mail messages. These tools are a means of your learning, not its end. You should spend as much time as possible thinking about the content of messages and as little as possible dealing with the mechanics of typing, finding, filing, and deleting messages. This guide offers tips and guidelines on how to use messages efficiently.
- Follow policy on collaboration
- Try forums before e-mail
- Reply in the same medium
- Read more send less
- Subject subject lines to scrutiny
- Conventional parts of a message
- Attach related materials
- Quote wisely
- Use e-mail conventions wisely
- Writing style
- Keep conversations productive
When you signed up for this course you agreed to follow the Policy on collaboration. It specifies acceptable and not-acceptable practices and behaviors. Please review the policy. It is designed to make the learning experience better for everyone. Follow it completely.
Make the forums your first stop when checking for When you signed up for this course you agreed to follow the Policy on collaboration. It specifies acceptable and not-acceptable practices and behaviors. Please review the policy. It is designed to make the learning experience better for everyone. Follow it completely.
With so many communications channels (e-mail, chat, forums, videoconferencing, telephone) to choose from, it is sometimes hard to decide which to use.
One general rule will help: Respond in kind. That. That is, reply to a message using the same medium as the message itself. Respond to e-mail for e-mail. Shift media only for specific reasons.
Specific reasons for shifting media include these:
- A public message needs a private reply. Use a private message (e-mail or private chat) for messages that could embarrass or anger someone if made public. You notice a discussion-group message that misuses terminology. Instead of complaining about it and publicly embarrassing the poster, you point out the problem in a private e-mail. You then let the original poster correct the problem. You make a fiend rather than an enemy.
- A private message has general applicability. Sometimes the reply to a private message would be useful to more people than the original sender. Say a fellow learner asks you to explain something. Why not post your explanation so others can benefit.
Read more messages then you send. Write shorter messages than you read. Do not send a message without a good reason.
|Do not post messages that just say:||Or:||Or just:|
Are you kidding?
(If you really want to thank someone for taking special pains solving a problem for you, send them a gift.)
Send messages only to those directly need to know. Do not post to a forum an issue that involves only a small number of people. Instead, send an e-mail message to the group of people involved.
In chat, set up a separate room for private conversations.
Make sure every address in the To or CC fields need the information. As a conversation goes on, reconsider whether all the recipients are still interested.
When replying to a message, double check which people will receive the reply. You do not want send a private response to a whole group.
Remember the adage, “Praise in public. Disagree in private.”
Keep e-mail messages short. If in doubt, leave it out. If they need more information, they can request more.
Make only one main point per message. Request only one action or decision per message. The recipient is likely to read and respond to the first request and miss the second.
If you have many questions, turn them into a questionnaire and let the user fill in a form to answer them all. Keep paragraphs short. Limit them to a maximum of:
- Three sentences
- 50 words
- One idea
Do not feel you have to respond to all messages. You do not reply to all the junk mail you receive. If a message angers you, wait until you calm down. Then decide if it even deserves a response.
Before you hit the keyboard to pound out a witty reply, take time to do a bit more reading.
Check all headers first. Before you reply to a message, scan the headers of all other unread messages in case there is a related message from the same person. Before you take time composing a reply, make sure there is not a later message saying, “Oh never mind” Or “Oops, I was wrong”.
Read before posting. Read all the messages before posting a message. Someone may have already answered your question or at least posted it.
Read the FAQ first. Before posting a question to a discussion, make sure the question is not answered in the FAQ.
Lurk before you post. Monitor a discussion before you join in. Make sure you understand the general principles as well as the current topic under discussion before you start contribute. Until you are sure what subjects are fair game and which are off limits, keep listening.
Aside from the content the subject line of your message is the most important part. It is the part people see first. It is what most people read to decide whether to read the body of the message. Here are some tips for writing the subject line.
Keep the subject line short and to the point. Make the subject a complete phrase but not necessarily a sentence. Remember people often pick which message to read by scanning a list of subject lines. Put the critical words up front, near the beginning of the line.
Use a prefix to help the recipient know how to respond to the message and its urgency. Here are some prefixes that are commonly used:
|For your information. No reply required.|
|Important information you must act on immediately.|
|Please reply with the information requested.|
Avoid general words like information, stuff, and miscellaneous.
If the subject of a discussion changes over the course of a series of exchanges, remember to change the subject header.
When replying to a message you need not repeat the original header of the message your are replying to-the one filled in as a default. Change it to one that reflects your contribution to the conversation.
If posting a long message, warn of the size in the subject heading:
Subject: Note LARGE (50K) file.
Your instructor may set up specific conventions for subject lines on submissions for class activities. Make sure you understand and follow these.
What you type in your message is up to you. There are some conventions you should be aware of and should think twice about violating. Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a typical message and then consider how we handle each of the parts we find there.
Like the letterhead of a memo or letter, the banner immediately identifies the source of the message. The banner is optional. Many e-mail programs do not automatically insert a banner although all let the user paste in one if only a text one.
Use the banner to immediately identify the source and nature of the message. They can give a distinctive identity to messages related to the course, messages from you, or messages of a specific nature, such as warnings.
Keep the banner short so it does not push the body of the message into the next scrolling zone.
In unsolicited e-mail, begin by explaining who you are and your interest in the recipient. Explain why you are writing to this particular individual.
Begin with a neutral greeting.
Dear fellow learner in PR401
Sign your e-mail the way you want others to address you. If you want people to use your nickname, sign that way.
In e-mail systems signatures are text automatically included at the end of all the messages you send.
In message signatures, include only relevant business information. Do not include information you do not want everyone in the course to have.
In a signature include:
- Mail address
- E-mail address**
- Web site*
** In case the message gets separated from its banner. If you include a quote, make sure it is relevant and business like.
Do not include political slogans or quotations that could insult or offend others, for instance, a political slogan.
In e-mail messages and discussion-group postings you can attach external files to your messages. These files travel along with the text message and can be downloaded by those receiving your messages.
In the message, explain exactly what all attachments are:
Make sure the recipient can decompress and open the attachment. Stick to formats approved for the course or at least to widely used file formats. Do the conversion yourself. Try sending the message to yourself first. That way you can verify that the conversion was successful.
Do not e-mail or post large files as attachments. As an alternative you can post the files to an FTP site and let others download them from there. Place the large file on a Web or FTP site and send or post a reference to it.
Do not forget to actually include the attachments. This is one of the most common errors, believe it or not.
When responding to another message, it often helps if you quote the part you are responding to.
When responding to a message, quote only the part of the message you are responding to, not the whole message.
Make the subject heading of your message reflect the scope of your comment.
Subject: Item 17 of your plan. Can we do it this year?
Indicate quoted portions with > characters to the left of the quoted text.
> This material is quoted.
This material is not quoted.
Include only one or two levels of quotations.
>> This is a quotation of a quotation.
> This is a simple quotation.
This is just some information about the quotations.
After the second level of quotations, just summarize the discussion so far in your own words.
Spell out ambiguous pronouns and incomplete names in the quoted portion.
> Jack [Thompson] promised to send samples to him [Juan Martinez].
If the sender asked multiple questions or you are responding to several separate points, quote the first item and respond to it. Then quote the second and respond to it. And so on.
When responding to a whole message in a threaded forum, do not quote the message you are responding to. It is available for anyone to read.
Of course, if your are responding to only one part of a message, then point this out in the subject header and quote the part you are responding to.
E-mail has its evolved its own rules of style, shorthand, slang, clichés, and tone. These conventions apply to discussion group postings and to chat as well. Some can compensate for limitations of a text format. Others have no place in learning. Let’s take a look at how to use these conventions within this course.
In e-mail, chats, and forums, many people use abbreviations for common phrases. These are called netcronyms, an amalgam of network and acronym. If you use these, limit yourself to the most common ones and then only if others will recognize them. Some common ones include:
|In my humble opinion|
|By the way|
|For your information|
|For what it’s worth|
|Talk to you later|
Keep in mind that these do not translate well. Best use them only with Americans and English-speaking Canadians.
Type your messages the way you would if you were speaking or writing a letter. Avoid the practice of CAPITALIZING WORDS FOR EMPHASIS!!!!!!! And multiple exclamation points are not more effective than one. Many people interpret the capital letters and exclamation points as you shouting at them.
Plain text lacks the facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and other cues we use to interpret the words of someone speaking to us in person. In e-mail, chats, and forums, many people use smileys or emoticons to show the emotion or tone they want attached to their words. To keep the smileys from becoming a private joke, restrict yourself to the most common smileys.
|🙂||Smile||This makes me happy. I am just joking.|
|😉||Wink||I am making a joke or speaking ironically.|
|🙁||Frown||This make me sad too. I do not like this idea any more than you do.|
|😀||Big smile||This makes me really happy.|
Plain text lacks tone of voice. E-mail has evolved conventions to deal with this lack of voice. Here are some conventions. These are in order from least emphatic to most emphatic. Thus they give you a range of levels of emphasis.
|((around words))||For an aside or a very soft whisper.|
|(around words)||To whisper.|
|_around words_||To indicate that the words are underlined or italics.|
|*around words*||For emphasis, like boldfacing the words.|
|ALL CAPS||To shout. Use this sparingly. It is considered RUDE! If overused.|
|>>!!ALL CAPS!!<||For really strong emphasis with a bit of humor.|
Written language is usually more formal and more constrained than spoken language. Some e-mail conventions restore a bit of the informality of natural conversation. They deliberately bend the rules of grammar, spelling, and syntax for deliberate effect.
|… (elipsis)||A pause or broken off thought. The reader can complete the thought.||And if we do commit to the plan …|
|Hummmmmm||I am considering this idea.||We could raise the dividend to attract more investors. Hmmmmmm.|
|Outlining||To show structure.||Our product line includes:Desktop systems
|???||Puzzlement or doubt.||ZipECorp says the Zip390 is “sideways compatible”???|
|?!?||Astonishment.||I click OK and the file is gone?!?|
|#%&$*||Profanity.||How do I feel about the proposal? It is #%&$* %&#$* %#&**.|
|Bleeping: Use * to replace vowels in swear words.||Caution: This may still violate your acceptable usage policy and may offend some who still recognize the bleeped word.||Oh sh*t!|
Before you use any of these conventions, make sure your recipient understands them. Publish them in your guide to e-mail usage.
Unless you know your e-mail, chat, and discussion group system (and that of each of your recipients) can handle other characters, limit messages to low-ASCII characters. These are the ones not grayed out here:
The way you write a technical report is not the same as the way you write a love letter. Likewise, they way you write an e-mail or discussion-group message may differ from other forms of writing you do. Here are some stylistic tips.
Write in a simple conversational tone-not too formal and not too chatty. Just write the way you would talk to a respected business associate that you know professionally but not socially.
Do not immediately use other people’s first name or nickname. Wait until they invite you to. Or address them the way they sign their own messages.
Clarify your sentiments, especially if not clear from words alone. Avoid sarcasm and irony. Subtle feelings are often lost in text messages.
If you write something, humorous or ironic, make sure your reader understands not to take your words literally. One way is to follow the non-literal text with a smiley 🙂 or ;-).
Use pronouns only if they refer to nouns in the current message (or the quoted portion of a prior one).
Use discussions to develop, test, and refine ideas. Discuss, debate, question, dispute, and challenge ideas. But keep all discussions positive and disagreements professional.
It is OK to disagree and to challenge ideas. It is never OK to abuse, bully, or harass others. Feel free to point out weaknesses in an idea but not criticize the person who offered it.
Vague criticisms without supporting reasons are not permitted. Do not say, “That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard.” Just say what you disagree with and why.
Never send a message when you are angry. Count to ten. Count to one hundred. Sleep on it.
Do not respond in anger to provocative, offensive, insulting, or off-subject message. Such angry responses just prompt a cascade or more and more irrelevant responses.
Consider that the message you are responding to could be counterfeit. Or the person who posted it was making a bad joke. Or just having a bad day. When you are calm, ask yourself, “Could I possibly have misinterpreted what this person is saying?”
Also consider whether the best response is just to ignore the message. If the message is not relevant to course content, you lose nothing by ignoring it.
Apply the same care to your own messages. Before hitting Enter to send any message, ask yourself how you would feel if someone sent the message to you.
You do not have to tolerate abuse or harassment. As our policies make clear, abusive and harassing behavior is not acceptable. In fact it is your duty to confront and correct such behavior.
If you encounter such inappropriate behavior and you feel it was deliberate, confront the person-politely but definitely. Politely because the message might have been counterfeit and because you want the person to stop the behavior. Definitely so they know you were offended. Do not counterattack, just state the reason for your objection and what you want the person to do: apologize publicly, retract a message, or just not do it again.
If you do not get a satisfactory response, then contact the instructor for help.
If you notice postings you consider inappropriate, notify the moderator or system administrator immediately.
When responding to someone’s exact words, take care how you quote their original message.
- If you must disagree, start by stating how you interpreted the other person’s words, then points on which you agree, and finally your point of disagreements.
- If you must criticize, focus on the main ideas of disagreements rather than on minor details. No one likes to be nagged.
- Do not nitpick grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Do not mark errors with “[sic]” or make corrections. Just quote.
- Beware the pattern of quotation followed by disagreement followed by another quotation and disagreement and so on and on. The person quoted can feel like a punching bag. Mingle in a little praise.