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E-mail: Pet Peeves and Preferences

Everyone has a pet peeve or two when it comes to e-mail. For Len Elliott, Financial Aid Director at a major Midwestern research university, it’s thank-you e-mails. “The thank-you is implied,” says Len. “There is no question this is what I’m expected to do. I don’t want a thank you email. There’s nothing endearing to me about the thank you email.” Len processes financial aid payments to hundreds of students, including all internal and external awards for Ph.D. students in 15 research departments. He estimates he receives about 70 e-mails a day, 30 of which involve “serious problems” that each require as much as four hours of work. Sometimes, during his busy season from July through September, Len misses checking his emails for several days: “I look at my inbox and it has 400 emails in it. And I think, ‘is this something else I have to do?’ I dread opening them. And then there’s nothing worse than a stale thank-you.’”

But what about courtesy? Isn’t it polite to say “thank you” when someone helps you? “I really don’t need a thank you,” says Len. “But if it makes you feel better—if I really got you out of a bind or something—just put it in the subject line.” Len goes on to talk about Katherine, a former colleague in the Registrar’s office. Once she had finished a task, she simply added the word “done” in front of the e-mail subject line, and her readers understood there was no need to open that message. “’Done,’” says Len. “That’s my favorite four-letter word.”

Katherine’s solution is one that organizations are adopting to cut down on the time spent on opening e-mails needlessly. Many people now write their entire message—as long as it’s brief—in the subject line, followed by “(eom)” for “end of message.” For instance, when a programmer writes “Adam working from home today (eom),” his colleagues know they don’t have to open that message; they can simply delete it from their inboxes.

As the technology of communication evolves, so do its protocols. Staying flexible and being sensitive to the needs of others is the cure for most e-mail pet peeves.

What are your e-mail pet peeves?

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