Dear CyberChat Correspondent

What’s the correct email format? Should it look like a letter or be as brief as possible, with plenty of LOL acronyms and emoticons :•)) ?

Dear Cyber Chat Contact: Do formal communication rules apply to informal communication media?

For example, which of these (A or B)  is the better email message about the same topic?

Subject: Cleveland Meeting

A. Send relevant details about your visit.

B. Hello Mr. Johnson:

We’re looking forward to meeting you when you visit Cleveland in mid-September. I’ll be your chief contact for our company and hope to make our meeting about publishing your memoirs as pleasant and productive as possible. Accordingly, please let me know the exact dates you’ll be in town and where you are planning to stay.

We wonder if you would like us to arrange for your transportation between your hotel and our offices.

Also, please let me know if you have any particular concerns, issues or questions that you would like us all to know about prior to our discussions.

Thank you

Best Regards,

This question comes up because it doesn’t seem that everyone using the familiar on-line way of communicating, the email, knows the correct format to use. Perhaps that’s because there really is no approved, or even a generally accepted way of presenting a message transmitted via the current (digital) media mode of communicating that message.

The people with whom I exchange questions, comments or vital information related to a current or impending arrangement (I’ll be at the corner of Fourth and Harrison in about a half hour), are all over the place when it comes to formatting their communications. When I receive an email from one contact, a writer, I have to read it twice to understand what idea, sentiment or piece of information is intended. He doesn’t bother to use upper case letters to start a thought. There is no punctuation involved to help me put the line of words into a meaningful communication that accurately expresses what he intended to say.

Another contact, a lawyer, uses this form of messaging to do exactly what he puts on paper. In fact, his email messages look like letters, with a proper greeting and salutation, paragraph spacing and the cc list of other recipients at the bottom, even though I can look into the CC bar in my email app to see who else is getting the message. And at the bottom of his letter-like emails is the disclaimer language stating that thoughts expressed are his, and that he is not liable for any consequences, should a recipient misuse the information. I mean really! (Do doctors require you, when handing out a prescription, to agree in writing not to sue them if you don’t take the medication as directed? No they don’t. Not yet, anyway). The lawyer’s disclaimer often is more verbose than the message it disclaims.

I should mention that the author of those messages which look and sound formal is on the mature side of the baby boomer generation, while the perpetrator of excruciatingly brief emails is someone who grew up in the Seventies. It’s another example of how different generations manage their human interactions differently. My lawyer friend would rather look you in the eye when interacting with you, while the younger emailer would just as soon get the message off as quickly as possible with no real interaction required. He has other, perhaps more important things to do.

In fact, those who use the anti-style guide—the one that would advocate style-atheism were it to offer any formatting suggestions at all—aren’t even limited to the use of commonly understood words when they have something to say. Not when they can save the time and energy devoted to that ancient art, using words and sentences to form ideas, by merely substituting familiar abbreviations. LOL and OMG tell me everything I want to know about what’s on the communicator’s mind: nothing important. While we are at it, why use alpha and numeric characters to convey a lack of ideas when we can do it more efficiently using emoticons? ): Better still, how about communicating an idea with those little yellow smiley (or frowny) face characters now available, along with other silly symbols, for use in many word processing applications?

To make matters worse, at least for those for whom traditional forms matter, we can complete the transition from real methods of communication to “data dribbling” with our tweets and text messages. Perhaps by cutting any personality, avoiding any nuance when we send off an email, text or tweet, we can remove any remaining trace of human contact in our communications.

That, of course, does enable the sender to communicate a message. It is that he or she is too busy, and too tech hip, to bother with old fashioned formalities in written communication.

I used to worry that the practice and the art of letter writing are at risk of dying. Now I just mourn their loss.

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