[sf-lug] Writing styles, volunteers, "solutions", and all that jazz ; -)

Michael Paoli Michael.Paoli at cal.berkeley.edu
Fri Sep 11 06:03:49 PDT 2009

Without getting into referencing specific posts, but commenting upon
some points made/raised and/or other items/areas they reminded me of ...

Anyway, just my "take"/perspective on it ... not necessarily 100%
accurate, nor even necessarily particularly close to that.

Email isn't particular rich communication medium, particularly
contextually.  I.e. it's very easy for things to be misinterpreted or
interpreted quite differently than intended.  It tends to lack all or
most all of the verbal cues (e.g. intonation), body language, etc. -
it's "just" (or almost entirely) "flat" words and text.  Okay, yeah,
there's emoticons (e.g. smilies) and all that ... but that doesn't
really help all that much - and they too can also be misinterpreted.
So, ...  it's very easy for folks to take things in email in ways other
than intended.  May depend on audience and other factors, but it can be
rather to quite useful to keep this in mind with email, and to perhaps
critically review one's writing before sending that email.  Also useful
to keep this in mind when reading emails - apply (or at least allow
for) most loose/favorable interpretation.  I forget the precise
detail/statistic, but I think it goes along the lines that readers of
email will generally tend to apply the most negative/critical
interpretations/connotations to email they read, particularly where
there's ambiguity or wiggle room in possible interpretations.  (Not sure
of the details, but I think that has something to do with human nature
and the "flatness" of email communication.)  Anyway, probably useful to
keep those points in mind, when both writing, and reading, emails.

Efficiencies :-)  Various folks (and certainly not excluding myself) are
more - and less - good/efficient/etc. at various stuff.  E.g. we've got
our talents and stuff we do rather to quite well ... and other stuff
that, well, ... we're not quite as adept at (or can more-or-less manage
- but only with a lot more time and effort).  So, ... there are
tradeoffs to be had there - e.g. getting rather to quite good
information out there, succinctly, efficiently, and quickly, vs., oh,
say, getting it out there much more carefully (so as to avoid
potentially being misconstrued) at the "expense" (with fixed/limited
resources) of then only getting much less information out there, or
maybe in some/many cases, not even getting that (quite) useful
information out there at all.  Anyway, ... points to be considered when
reading - and writing - emails. :-)  [An aside: certainly an area I've
dealt with and very much continue to deal with - e.g. I've certainly had
folks (e.g. some managers) comment upon my writing styles ... and some
of it much good advice ... and at least for me it continues to be some
form of tradeoff - e.g. spending 3 to 10 times as long to get that email
edited to be "just right" (or nearly so) before sending it out vs.,
well, just "dumping" the relevant information out there rather to quite
quickly (and then being able to move on to the no shortage of other
things to be worked upon).  Much of the "balance" in that tradeoff I'll
often adjust based upon factors such as target audience, criticality of
getting the information out quickly, etc. - e.g. a guestimated "best"
cost/benefit tradeoff for the time and circumstances.]

Volunteers :-) ... and as folks here (and similar forums) are generally
volunteering their time/resources, folks may worry less about "pesky
little details" of precisely how they write/format their emails, how it
might be interpreted, etc.  It's not generally like some boss is gonna
crack down on them or fire them if they're not highly enamored with
some writing style they might see or opinion they may see espoused.

Solutions :-)  A style/edict/attitude I've occasionally seen with some
managers.  If one raises an issue/objection/problem, one must provide
the solution - or at bare minimum a suggested means of improvement.
Now, ... such an approach can be problematic and/or backfire (e.g. folks
don't raise issues/problems because they don't want the added burden of
having to solve them).  But on the other hand, it may be useful to at
least keep in mind, when raising objections, etc., if one can reasonably
suggest a solution, improvement, or better way to do something, it may
be rather to quite useful to also provide such information.  Might not
always be feasible (e.g. there may not be or yet be a good solution, or
there may be too many to easily start to mention them, or solution may
be self-evident (e.g. don't do what causes the problem)), ... but in any
case, where such "solution"(s), etc., can be reasonably/easily provided,
may be quite useful, appropriate, and beneficial to provide such
information (or pointers to such, etc.).

Anyway, ... just a few random thoughts I thought most all of us could
potentially benefit from if we keep them in mind.

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