For emails, terse is worse -- at college, on the job

Maybe it's because she once was a reporter, but a friend of mine who now teaches at Temple University used to be terse when it came to writing emails to her students. Her new conclusion? Terse is worse.

The lesson from the professor is to tailor emails to the audience, and it doesn't hurt to be humanoid. 

Many of the emails from her students were complaints that Temple's online paper posting system ate their term papers. Before she'd simply respond, getting right to business.

Under her new philosophy, no matter what she was going to say in the email, she'd begin by saying. "Hi Student,  Sorry you having problems with the system." Then she'd go on to make her point. She didn't have a long personal conversation. It was simply a matter of using the student's name and making an effort at empathy.

In writing her emails, she deliberately set out to mimic her students' style, throwing exclamation points in places that would have never been acceptable in a scholarly paper, in a news story, or for that matter, to her in normal writing.

When correcting papers, she went further, upgrading the salutation from "Hi" to "Dear." When "Dear Student," started a paragraph of comments and criticisms, the comments appeared to be accepted more positively. 

It seems so obvious that using someone's name and expressing a little sympathy would net rewards.

Here's what I admire about her story. She took a critical look at what she did and made a deliberate effort to change her communication style. She didn't have to compromise any of her beliefs. These were small changes, easily applied. But she believes they made a difference in allowing her to accomplish her goal, which is to become a more effective teacher. 

Does the professor's lesson apply to communication at work? Absolutely! And to that, I add !!! 

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