August 4, 2015


by Inge Coates Branch President SCRTA and Communications and Technology Committee member

I like using email. It gives me choices. I can choose when or if I am going to read or compose a message and email is much faster and easier than regular mail. It allows me to think before I “speak,” which is something I know I need to be careful with, and it is easy to proof read with the help of spelling and grammar checkers. Mind you, the spell-checker has to be beaten into submission at times, especially when I choose Canadian rather than U.S. spelling. Still, email is a favourite way for me to communicate.

I didn’t always like email. In fact, I have made my share of mistakes before I understood this medium. Judging by what I have read in preparation for writing this article, I probably still make mistakes, but there are things I have learned.


I enjoy a good bout of irony, but caution is needed when using irony in an email message. Years ago, in a message to a parent, I lightheartedly indicated that her son, like most students, just loved taking home homework. The distraught mother went to the principal complaining about my use of sarcasm, and it took quite a while to calm her down. I never used irony in an email to a parent again!

Emotional Messages

Unfortunately, most email users overestimate their abilities to express or interpret emotions (Kruger, Epley, Parker, and Ng, 2005). If an email message is emotional, very serious, or personal, the writer’s intent is often misunderstood because the reader cannot hear him or see his body language. Neither can the writer see the reader as she decodes the message. When the writer is relatively unknown to the reader it is even possible for her (the reader) to lose perspective that the writer is a person; he becomes anonymous. This can lead to hostile, uninhibited exchanges referred to as “flaming.”

A media richness theory developed by Robert Lengel and Richard Daft (1989) is helpful in choosing a different medium to use for emotional messages. Media that conveys complex messages accurately and quickly are rich; those that are suitable for simple, generic messages are lean. Accordingly, face-to-face communication would be the richest form of communication, followed by video conferencing (Skype or Face time or other combinations of image and voice), telephone, voice mail, personal letters, personal email, and bottoming out with bulk letters, bulk mail and bulk email.

Email Overload

Writing is relatively easy for me. It’s not hard for me to write twenty words that cover a simple concept. It’s the editing that is difficult. Because emails tend to be quick, informal writing, I have to remember to cut back on the length of my postings as well as the volume. My poor daughter simply ignores replying when I get carried away. Instead, she takes time to phone and we cover all of my messages and more.

Many bulk emails come from businesses, and these are often easy to stop by going to the bottom of the message and finding the usually tiny “unsubscribe” link.

Friends who spam us with too many jokes are harder to unsubscribe. Unfortunately, the real messages from such friends are often lost in the avalanche of unwanted ones. It was a difficult telephone conversation with one such friend who is housebound and lives on the other side of Canada. We phoned him and told him that we love seeing his pictures, and learning his news, but we really did not want any more of the jokes. A few more phone calls between us reinforced how much his friendship is valued. He still sends jokes, but they have become fewer.

Other Considerations

Just like most of you, I am at the age when my eyesight, hearing and dexterity are not as keen as they once were. As a result, my font choice is larger than the standard, and I enlarge the display of any document. So far, my fingers are still hitting the keys I want them to, but prolonged computer work is starting to hurt in strange places. There may come a time when I will no longer enjoy reading or writing emails because it has become too difficult. That may already be the reality for some of the people to whom I send messages. Large fonts in sans serif typeface such as Helvetica and double spacing are helpful to our friends with vision problems. Using black fonts on white backgrounds may seem boring, but coloured fonts often lack contrast and may be harder to read. Another consideration is not only the receiver’s comfort with using a computer, but also the age of their computer and software.

Although there are several factors that determine the success of email communication, the ease of using this medium makes it a great tool to keep in touch, share ideas, and let loved ones know everything you are up to—or not.


Kruger, J.; Epley, N.; Parker, J.; Ng, Z.W. (2005). “Egocentrism over email: can we communicate

as well as we think?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 89(6): 925.

Lengel, R.; Daft, R (August 1989). “The Selection of Communication Media as an Executive Skill”.

The Academy of Management Executive (1987 – 1989): 225—232.