Saturday, June 06, 2009

Sundar's Guide to Corporate E-Mail Writing

This article will give you an heads up on how best to write emails in any corporate culture, and live to tell the tale.

1. Open any email client
Usually this is Microsoft Outlook, and therefore this discussion assumes Outlook as the software being used.

2. Type in the subject
In the Sub: field, type in the subject of your email. Experts say this should not be more than three words. However, it should be bombastic enough to capture the attention of the folks lazing it out onsite, so it doesn't really matter if it doesn't make any sense. Suppose you were writing to the Electricity Board regarding frequent power outages, do not say "Frequent Power Cuts" in the subject line because they'd have gotten a million mails with the same subject, and probably would have automatically forwarded them to their junk folder. Therefore, go in for something that'd keep them sufficiently confused, like "Electron Flow Deficiency". You could of course, try something innovative, like "Brazilian Bikini Girls", but that really is your call.

Gone are the days when we wrote long winding leave letters beginning with "Respected Sir/Madam, As I was suffering from...".
These days all you do is start off with a simple 'Hi'. Then, you type in the first name of the addressee. Even if he/she happens to be the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces. Something like "Hi Darth" should do fine!

4. Type in the message
You had it easy so far. All you did was type in three random words. Now comes the tough part. You have to compose a KISS email. Hang on! Before you go into rhapsodies, you have to know that KISS is an acronym for Keep It Short and Simple. That is really hard, because till last year you were writing 44 page long epics on obscure quality practices in Total Quality Management. There is also the added problem of making the email sound like you've been working your ass off when in reality you've been experimenting with ways to make the coffee dispenser churn out more milk.
Don't worry! There is a simple trick to get around this conundrum: Throw in as many acronyms as possible. Masters of email writing usually start with a simple 'FYI', which stands for 'For Your Information'. (I think. No one's really sure) Alternative beginnings include PFB (Please Find Below), (Yeah, like I didn't know I'd find the message below), and PFA (Please Find Attached). The usage of the last one is highly not recommended unless you have a spreadsheet full of random numbers and column headers like "Net planned/unplanned task efforts ratio" to send in.
Now, think hard on what productive work you've done since morning. It's not much, I know, but every little bit counts.
Right, you spent the morning reading Harry Potter erotica. Here's what you say:
Analyzed the FSD (Functional Specification Document) and the existing code to enumerate the list of changes to be made to include said enhancement into the product. Documented the dependencies and regression defects likely to be injected and have checked the file into the network. Then, rename the said Harry Potter book as "Dependencies and likely Regression Defects Injected by Enhancement No 4.3.72" and check it in. Trust me, no-one's ever going to open that document.
There, you've accounted for the morning. Of course, you then went and took your two hour lunch break.
What next?
You created an empty class at 2 P.M in a fit of workaholism. You typed out the name of the class, opened a curly bracket, pressed the carriage return down a couple of times, and closed it. How do you describe that? Suppose the class was called UserInteractionMonitor, this is what you type in: Created a concrete wrapper class called UserInteractionMonitor that implements the IUserInteractionMonitor interface and implemented the methods exposed by the interface.
Although you've made a couple of striking points, you still run the risk of being accused of shirking work (not without reason), so you need something that really clinches the deal. It's easy. Open all available documentation. Some Star Trek obsessed geek in the client's IT team is bound to have created a method called FutileResistance() whose sole function would be to display the message "This is the Borg. You'll be assimilated. Resistance is futile." All you have to do is to put an issue in the issue tracker saying that this method couldn't be used by you and that you were not able to figure out its purpose, and that it wasn't part of the design, and that it was stopping you from your work.
There you've said what you did today. But what do you plan to do tomorrow? Continuing in the previous vein, this is what you say:
"Going forward, (this phrase is absolutely essential in any email. More important than the subject), we'll be working on the User Interaction Monitor pending clarification on the functionality of the FutileResistance() method.
Presto! Your message is ready!

5. Sign
Yours truly, yours sincerely, faithfully, obediently, and all that jazz are a little dated. Damn those English classes that drilled such stuff into my head. All you have to put in is "thanks", or perhaps "thanks and regards", and type in half your first name, or whatever it is everyone calls you.

6. To
Put in the email ids of all the people you think should read this mail.

7. Cc
The email ids of all those people who do not need to look at this email, but must be given the pretense of respect.

8. Bcc
Your girlfriend. You don't have one I know, but still :)

Here is a sample email...


Sub Jedi Invasion

Hi Darth,
PFB updates for today.
An old Jedi Master, Obi Wan Kenobi has boarded the Ship.
FYI, he wields a colorful tubelight which he thinks will slay random robots.
Going forward, you'll feel him in the Force.
So far, he has damaged three relay conduits and beheaded a robot. We have raised an issue with the damage control team who'll be replacing the said components before EOD. PFA the damage assessment report.
We fired three support staff today because we found their lack of faith disturbing.
We are also facing slow connectivity with the engineering division. Please look into it and do the needful.

Thanks & regards,
Chief Commander, Vetti Timepass Division.