When to use email, how to use email, when not to, why

Email is fast, easily filed and retreived, simple to reply to. It has replaced written correspondence in nearly every situation. It makes communication possible and expedient between distant centers and it is relatively reliable as a record of converstations because most email programs will notify you when your message has been received and read.

But it is not always the best way to communicate. There are times when it is simply inappropriate; times when a face to face conversation or voice to voice by phone if parties are far apart is much better.

When to use email:

  1. To send general notices to many people
  2. To send personal correspondence of a general and pleasant nature
  3. To attach another file – document, spreadsheet, graphics,
  4. To notify a person or persons of a meeting and indicate their role, if anything special, in that meeting.
  5. To summarize a conversation and confirm items discussed, agendas set, and/or decisions made.

Why use email:

  1. It is quick and cheap.
  2. It permits mass distribution of information, notices, and reminders with little fuss and less cost. This is where email shines.
  3. It expedites outsourced work. You can send documents or graphics immediately. Just two weeks ago I was working on five membership websites and needed modifications to more than two dozen graphics files. I could spend a very long time trying to learn how to manipulate them in a graphics program I did not understand or find someone else to do them. I went on Elance, posted the job, received several bids within 30 minutes, selected a vendor, sent the files, and had the completed project done within 3 hours, all while I worked on the rest of the job.
  4. It creates a communication record. What you send in an email tends to be permanent and trackable. In many cases this is presicely what you want to do. In some cases, no. See my list below.
  5. Sometimes a face to face or over-the-phone conversation is just impossible. We have several offices and businesses in East Africa. The time difference is significant – 7 hours – and telephone service is highly unreliable.

When not to use email:

  1. When the message is extremely important
  2. When the message is extremely confidential
  3. When the message contains bad news, complaints, discipline, or controversial subject matter
  4. When a face to face conversation will work just as well.
  5. When the message is longer than a full page. I am iffy on this point because sometimes you need to communicate complicated instructions and a conversation can be imprecise and subject to the whims of memory. If you message does contain lengthy explanations or instructions, an attachment usually works better. WARNING:Some recipients block all attachments because of spam and viruses.
  6. When a back and forth conversation will be required.
  7. When the receiver deserves an opportunity to give immediate feedback or response.
  8. When you have to fire someone. Never, ever do this in an email.

Why not to use email:

  1. Once you hit the send button there is no getting it back. You cannot explain what you meant to say but might not have said the best way until later.
  2. It is insecure and not always dependable. Sometimes it just gets lost somewhere.
  3. If the circumstances or situation are emotionally charged, it is very easy to misinperpret an email. The recipient cannot see you and thus is missing a large part of the communication picture.

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