Modern Humorist - A Guide to Netiquette
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Lesson 1: E-mail

Lesson 2: Message Boards and Chatrooms
Lesson 3: Business Communication

E-MAIL IS EASY and fun to use. But what looks like an intuitive, user-friendly way to correspond is actually a thorny maze of confusing rules of behavior as complex as the code of Hammurabi. Luckily, you have a guide through this quagmire. Let’s start by taking a look at the text of a real e-mail message, below. See if you can tell what the writer should have done differently.

Hey Cassidy!!! Happy 13th b-day!! you don’t know me, but i am a 13 yr old girl who wants to be your PEN PAL!!! i checked out ur user profil on AOL. my name is brittney & i just turned 13 and want to talk to other 13 yr olds about stuff like NSYNC (the best!), math homework (yuk) and how you shower togethe with your little friends after gym class and what they look like! it’s okay to talk to me about ANYTHING ‘cause I’m just a 13 yr old girl like you!! Write back soon!!! p.s. do u have a favorite pair of panties rite back soon ok

ANSWER: There is no reason to write “pen pal” in all capitals. Capital letters can be used occasionally for emphasis, but overusing them is confusing and sometimes annoying. It reads like shouting, and no-one wants to be shouted at! Also, since this is an informal, chummy letter, the friendly tone can be increased by the addition of emoticons, like so: “do u have a favorite pair of panties rite back soon ok :)”

E-mail is a great way to keep in touch with friends, but it’s also very useful in getting information out to the public in an emergency situation. The following e-mail contains some very important facts that could save lives, but there is also one big mistake which could prevent the information from getting to where it’s needed.

An incident occurred when a women went to sit in a chair and something was poking her. She then got up and found that it was a needle with a little note at the end. It said, "Welcome to the real world, you're HIV positive." Doctors tested the needle and it was HIV positive. BE CAREFUL GOING TO THE MOVIES!!! When you go to the movies, please check your seat. This message is posted to make everyone aware of this danger. Beware PLEASE FORWARD TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!

This is one case where capitals are not overused. The message is so important that it is okay to “shout” while transmitting it. In fact, the mistake in this case is a lack of urgency. In an important public health warning such as this, the sender should make sure to grab the readers’ attention right away! First, use something like “Health alert” or “Safety bulletin” in the subject line. Then use an all-caps sentence as a first paragraph, like this:


And if you are the recipient of a public safety message like this one, it goes without saying that you should forward it to as many people as you can.

Now you know enough about e-mail etiquette to join in the fun. Just remember these simple rules and you won’t go wrong:

1. Always send e-mail as soon as you write it, especially if you’re angry or otherwise emotional.

2. Don’t be selfish—forward those chain letters to your friends and let them in on the good luck!

3. As a general rule, the more emoticons, the better.

Happy e-mailing!

Lesson 1: E-mail
Lesson 2: Message Boards and Chatrooms
Lesson 3: Business Communication

More by Martha Keavney:
Mauve Gloves and Manual Typewriters
The Breakfast Table

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