Is it time for a charter to improve the emails we send?

etiquette

Many of us are drowning in email, and Chris Anderson, curator of the TED conferences, thinks that we’re part of the problem: each email we send creates more work for our colleagues and contacts. Anderson thinks it’s time to address that by creating an “email charter” to agree a set of rules to reduce the amount of unnecessary email sent and to make the email we do send are easier to process. But will publishing these rules actually help to address the problem?

Here’s Anderson’s suggested list of common-sense email rules:

  1. Respect recipients’ time
  2. Be easy to process
  3. Choose clear subject lines.
  4. Short does not mean rude!
  5. Slow does not mean uncaring!
  6. Abhor open-ended questions
  7. Cut gratuitous responses
  8. Think before you cc:
  9. Speak softly
  10. Attack attachments
  11. Make it easy to unsubscribe
  12. Think about the thread
  13. Don’t reply when angry
  14. Use NNTR
  15. Pay a voluntary email tax
  16. Switch off the computer!

You can get more detail about each of the suggested rules over on Anderson’s blog. He is currently collecting feedback on these rules and looking for other suggestions, and is planning on eventually publishing the charter at a URL he’s reserved here.

Anderson’s efforts to stimulate some debate around email etiquette with a community-created email charter is laudable, but while I agree with the most of the suggested rules presented (with the exception of a voluntary email tax), I question whether publishing it will actually make very much difference to the daily deluge of email we have to deal with. Most people have been using email for an awfully long time, and their habits are very entrenched; getting them to change them is likely to prove a very difficult task, especially as most of these rules only directly benefit an email’s recipients. The people who care about email and its effects on productivity will probably already be following most of these rules already, while people who don’t care about etiquette will likely not be interested in finding, reading and implementing what is a fairly lengthy list of rules. One possible way to educate people about these rules and force them to use them would be to incorporate them into the popular email clients, but I can’t imagine that an email client that nagged its users into improving their email habits would be very popular, as anyone who remembers the much-derided Clippy feature in Microsoft Office will attest. Nevertheless, for people who do care about effective email usage, having a comprehensive guide to etiquette will be useful, so I am looking forward to seeing the end product.

What do you think? Is an email charter a good idea, and could it change people’s habits?

Hat tip to reader Andy Jacobson for notifying us of this effort.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Muffet

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