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Are you kidding me? This is serious! Or, what psychologists have to say about writing e-mail


An old college friend and accomplished writer, John Scalzi, recently posted a list of writing tips for non-professionals, which I'd highly recommend for professionals and non-professionals alike. One of his most unusual suggestions is to "speak what you write" -- literally, to read your writing out loud before publishing, whether in a blog post or just an e-mail to friends. This, he argues, will not only help catch spelling and other errors (each of which Scalzi says decreases the writer's apparent IQ by 5 to 10 points), but also help you see whether you're conveying the meaning you intend.

So what does psychology research have to say about this notion? (No, not that typos decrease your IQ, but the larger idea that reading your words out loud will help you determine if your meaning is clear.)

A team led by Justin Kruger conducted a series of experiments on how we perceive each other's intentions in e-mail, and their findings do have some relevance to Scalzi's claims. One common problem in e-mails is deciding whether your correspondent is being serious or sarcastic. Taking Scalzi's example, most readers will realize that one of his observations was sarcastic: your IQ doesn't literally decrease when you make a spelling error. But what about the advice given by the aptly-named blogger Grumpy old Bookman, who in response to the much-hyped controversy over fabrications in James Frey's memoir, suggested that authors literally make everything up, taking no inspiration from the real world? Most commenters to that post clearly thought he was being serious, but I have little doubt that the post was intended to be sarcasm (I also think he anticipated that many readers wouldn't "get it" -- and that was part of the joke).

But do most writers actually accurately anticipate how readers will perceive the tone of their writing? Kruger's team tested sixty pairs of students at Cornell University, asking each person to choose 10 statements from a list of 20. Each person had a different list; on both lists, some of the statements were sarcastic, and some were serious. In separate rooms, one member of the pair typed each of the chosen statements into an e-mail message. The other member recorded the statements with a tape recorder. Each person guessed whether the message recipient would be able to identify the statements correctly as sarcastic or serious; then they listened or read their partners' messages and indicated whether they actually thought the message was sarcastic. Here are the results:

While both e-mailers and talkers thought most sentences would be read accurately, e-mail recipients couldn't judge whether sarcasm was intended -- their readers guessed their intentions at a rate no better than chance. By contrast, people speaking sarcastic messages were accurately able to guess when recipients would see the sarcasm. Message recipients were also asked to say how confident they were in their understanding of the message, and again, whether reading e-mails or listening to recordings, nearly everyone believed they had accurately judged the message's intent.

So talking appears to be a better way of conveying sarcasm than e-mail. But what about Scalzi's advice -- can saying what you write actually help you better understand how your written message will be taken?

In a new experiment, pairs of volunteers e-mailed each other as before, but before they guessed how their message would be taken, they recorded the statements on a tape recorder. Half of the group read the statements as intended, using a sarcastic voice for the sarcastic statements, and a serious voice for serious statements. The other half read them using the opposite intonation: a sarcastic voice for serious statements and a serious voice for sarcastic statements. Here are the results:

When people read the statements with the same intonation as they intended to convey, they were wildly inaccurate at guessing whether readers would judge the statements' intentions correctly -- in fact, readers again were barely better than chance. But when e-mailers tried reading the statements with the opposite intonation, their guesses as to how readers would perform exactly matched actual performance. So here is a case where speaking what you write does appear to help you understand whether readers will read your message the way you intend it to be read.

Kruger and his team argue that their study demonstrates that writers are generally overconfident about what their readers will understand. While confidence about our writing matches our confidence about speaking, in reality, we're less able to convey those intentions in writing. Amazingly, readers, too, believe they can effectively judge the writer's intent, so the potential for miscommunicating in e-mail is amplified. The research also appears to support Scalzi's claim that "speaking what you write" can improve writing, with a caveat: to better understand the potential for misreading, you should try to read your words using an intonation opposite what you intend.

As for the link between spelling errors and IQ, more research will be needed before a definitive answer can be reached (seriously!).

Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 89(6), 925-936.

Posted by Dave Munger on Cognitive Daily


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The Secrets To E-Mail Nirvana


You crank up your computer every morning, click to your e-mail and--whap!--a slew of messages demands attention.

E-mail can be a great tool, but many misuse it, turning what should be quick, easy communication into a laborious, time-consuming management chore.

"Many people use the inbox as a to-do list, calendar and filing system," says Mark Hurst president and founder of Creative Good, a consulting firm in New York. "File some messages and delete most of them, but without a doubt, don't let anything stay in your inbox permanently."

Hurst says effective e-mail management is built on filters, filing and ruthless use of the delete key.
He offers this distinction to better define the problem: The number of new messages received each day is "volume" while the number of e-mails sitting in the inbox is "message count." The second is the key measure of effective e-mail management.

"A user who gets 100 messages a day may not be overloaded at all if the message count is low," Hurst says. "Conversely, a user who gets ten e-mails a day may be overloaded."

If the number of messages stacked in the inbox becomes too large and difficult to manage, you're overloaded. The e-mail system then becomes a black hole rather than a productivity tool and your output will suffer.

"If overload is the problem, then removing the load is the solution," Hurst says in a special report, "Managing Incoming E-mail." "Here's how to manage incoming e-mail: Keep the inbox empty--clear out incoming e-mails before they pile up or you lose your ability to manage them effectively."

But there's just one catch and, unlike catch-22, it's not the least bit philosophical.

"It may be a simple solution, but it's not easy," Hurst says. "Achieving simplicity--or emptiness, in this case--takes time and continued improvement. It's difficult but better than drowning in e-mails and becoming less effective. Only an empty inbox will allow users to take full advantage of the benefits of e-mail."

The first step is deleting all spam. Never reply to spam because the spammer will know your e-mail address is active and sell it to others at a premium. The result: more spam.

Next, read all personal e-mail from friends or family and save selected messages as needed elsewhere on your computer or print out important notes. It might be a good idea to check your personal e-mail account at work and use it to chitchat and exchange goofball jokes with your lunatic friends while reserving your company account for (gasp) work-related items. Admit it: This would sharply reduce the volume of incoming mail on the company e-mail system.

Hurst says messages should be sorted by date with the oldest message at the top of the list. Each message should be opened and the appropriate action--filing or deletion-- should be taken quickly. This will prevent the accumulation of a 500-message stack in your inbox.
Hurst says newsletters should be read or scanned quickly, but never filed because then you'll have two cluttering up your inbox when the next arrives. FYIs, or non-actionable information such as an answer to a question or notification of an event, should be read quickly, filed if necessary and deleted as soon as possible.

Hurst urges use of the "two-minute rule" for to-dos. If the task outlined in the e-mail takes two minutes or less to complete, even if it means getting out of your chair, do it immediately and delete the message.
If you're way behind in managing your e-mail, Hurst recommends a ruthless cleaning out of the clutter in the inbox to allow users to manage e-mail effectively with just a few minutes work each day. It may take several whacks to get through all the old junk, but once it's cleaned out, it's done and future management of the inbox can be handled in just a few minutes each day.

E-mail arrives throughout the day so it's impossible to keep the inbox empty at all times. Hurst recommends dealing with e-mails as soon as possible after each arrives or setting aside a few minutes several times a day to complete the task.

"Users shouldn't let an inbox go more than one business day without emptying," he says.
Filters will screen out most of the junk. For starters, Hurst recommends setting up your filter to accept mail from everyone in your address book. Suspected spam, including any e-mail containing viruses or unknown attachments, gets sent to purgatory--a folder for suspected junk mail from unknown senders. Any e-mail with three or more consecutive exclamation points gets zapped. Set the filter to automatically delete any e-mail containing raunchy words you'd expect to find in sexually explicit spam.

Have the filter kill any e-mail with "adv" in the message line. Expand the list of subject lines to kill starting with obvious pitches such as "Free Long Distance," "Find background info about anyone," "Quit Smoking" and "Be your own boss." Compiling the list requires some thought because many spam subject lines appear in legitimate e-mail such as free, mortgage, university, diploma and life insurance.
Software will thin the thundering herd of spam seeking to graze and fatten your inbox, but it's not the final, or best, way to manage e-mail.

"'Delete' is one keystroke," Hurst says. "I don't know what's easier than that."

Article written by Scott Reeves© Forbes.com Inc.™


How to take control of your email inbox

Do you have hundreds of e-mails clogging your inbox? Does it feel a bit out of control? Would you like to learn a simple process to regain control? If so, watch this video in which Stephen Barnes of Orla shares the 4D process for managing e-mails and regain control of your inbox forever.


9 Tips To Help You Write More Powerful Emails

By Suzan St Maur

1. Make the effort to learn about the etiquette (these days known as "netiquette") involved in writing emails. There are loads of good reference websites and books about the internet which will tell you the basics. I know it might seem a bit precious to attach so much importance to social niceties when the internet is basically very informal. However, whether we like it or not many people do take online etiquette very seriously. So if you're writing emails for business, you should assume that your recipient may well be one of those...

read on ...


E-mail Management: An Overlooked Time Saver?

You can save time by managing your E-mail.

The problem is that you probably have several E-mail accounts. School, home (from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), night school class at a college or university, and several "free" or throw-away accounts.
Tips fall into two categories, i.e.,



Great Time Management Advice!

From: Jim Rohn

I often talk in my seminars about the importance of time and time management -- how rich people and poor people both have the same amount of time every day - 24 hours (which by the way, I find fascinating).

This week, as we continue to celebrate the Anniversary of the Weekend Event, I want to share with you four great time management ideas we've excerpted from the Event Speaker Round Table Session - Enjoy!

Brian Tracy:

I always give the principle of: Begin the day by "Eating That Frog". It basically says that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, then you will have the satisfaction of knowing it is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.

And your "live frog" is your most important task. Now there's two corollaries to that. The first one is if you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first and the second corollary to that is if you have to eat a frog at all, it doesn't pay to sit and look at it too long.

So the key to high performance is to plan every day the night before, in advance, and set priorities for it. And then say, "if I can only complete one task on this list before I was to be called out of town for a month, which one task would it be?" And whatever that is, it becomes your frog and the next morning discipline yourself to start in on that task, the most important thing on your list, and do only that until it is complete.

If you can develop that habit, you can double and triple your productivity, you'll take full control of your life, you will eventually become wealthy, and the personal feeling of pride, accomplishment, discipline and achievement you get will be absolutely extraordinary. It is one of the most important of all lessons to learn, and one of the hardest things to implement if anybody has tried to do it.

Denis Waitley:

Stop watching in prime time and start living in prime time. Prime time is 7-11 pm EST, when all of America is watching other people making money and having fun in their professions. So if you want to watch other people making money, having fun in their professions, which gets their ratings up so they make more money, go ahead and do things that are tension relieving, instead of goal achieving. But if you truly want to live YOUR life in prime time, then write in prime time, have intimacy in prime time, talk with your children in prime time, live and do in prime time instead of unhooking and engaging in tension relieving activities.

Every book I've written, all seventeen, have been written 7-11 pm weekly and on Saturdays. And why? Because I am earning money the rest of the time, and I don't have time to write a book except in prime time.

So stop watching and use the television set as an appliance. It has doors on it. Close the doors and use like an iron, when you need to iron your clothes, bring out the TV set.

Jim Rohn:

Regarding the television, I knew a guy who wasn't doing too well and he wanted some advice from me. I knew he had a television set and knew he watched a lot of television, so I asked, "How much did that television cost you?"He said, "about $400."I said, "No, you're mistaken."He said, "No, this television set cost me $400."I said, "Well that's to buy it. To watch it, I am sure it is costing you about $40,000 a year to watch."

He finally got the message and he called his brother-in-law, who had a pick-up, and he and his brother-in-law hauled his television out of the house. His brother-in-law did say, "Well, you can just shut it off."

And he said, "No, for now I don't trust myself, Jim Rohn is right. I'm not going to let this television set cost me $40,000 a year anymore."

Vic Johnson:

My biggest tip would be in an area that I struggle a lot. About 15 years ago I heard someone say to never handle the items in your inbox more than one time. So I adopted that for email. Now I get over 300 emails everyday even though I have all kinds of filters, some of them going to other people, etc. My biggest challenge is to touch that email only one time. Either I forward the email, I return the email and delete it or drag it to a folder for action by someone else or delete it. If you continue to have to go back and revisit that email over and over trying to make a decision that's time -- that's wasted time -- plus it's on your mind until you get rid of it. So if you are in a profession and you handle a lot of emails and you're still getting a lot of items in your inbox, only touch them one time.

Reproduced with permission from the Jim Rohn Weekly E-zine.Jim Rohn International2835 Exchange Blvd., Suite 200Southlake, TX 76092800-929-0434International and/or Dallas/Ft Worth - 817-442-5407Fax 817-442-1390 or visit the website at www.jimrohn.com