Rachael on the go

Quick writing tips and ideas, but some musings too

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Where are your manners?

I’ve decided Twitter and other social media are a form of verbal warfare. The current worldwide campaign against online sexual violence agrees: people are not prepared to tolerate the vile online abuse hurled at women.

While we enjoy online text that is informative, inspiring, funny, witty and even trivial, we are learning how it can also be aggressive and criminal.

Just to be clear, I’m not calling for a stop to online battles. All forms of text have been used for debate and argument, and I expect that. The written word has always been the mouthpiece of opinion—writing can be deliberate, thought-out, crafted. So it is ideal for planting the flag on an idea.

But we need some manners. We need boundaries for our writing, rather than the open slather that dominates now.

And these boundaries are needed for workplace writing too. So, what are the modern manners of a polite writer? I think we can probably start with the following 7 rules of etiquette:

1. Easily the most important rule: don’t be rude, offensive or untruthful. Ever.

You may write about hard truths, or your disappointment, resentment or anger. But stick to the facts (and maybe your feelings). Don’t slay anyone.

2. Don’t act like a 10 year old girl.

Don’t use kisses and emojis to make friends or soften a hard message. You are a grown person at work, and you should act like one.

3. Don’t text or email sad or serious news.

People deserve to hear upsetting news from you in person or by phone.

But a company can bend this rule in some situations. For a product recall, for example, a company may send letters to alert consumers, but they may also start a Twitter campaign. In this case, circulating the warning far and wide, and quickly, is more important than being polite.

4. Get back to people (or at least say when you’ll be free to chat)

Too often I send work emails or leave work voicemails that I may as well send to space: zip response! I politely follow up, and sometimes I’m ignored again. I understand time pressures and all that jazz. But I also know typing ‘Got it’ or ‘I’ll get back to you’ takes 10 seconds.

So please acknowledge people trying to communicate with you (and do it quickly, to show you recognise they are busy too).

5. Stop writing and start talking face to face.

People complain about the tone of messages in their email battles. Whoa! Email is not a weapon. If you have an issue, walk up to the person and bravely discuss it. Or, if you’re not in the same space, arrange a convenient video/call time.

6. Spell check and proofread.

Do you spell check every piece of your writing? It takes 5 minutes, but it’s worth brownie points with your reader. Typos make you look lazy, and your writing look hasty.

Better to run a quick spelling/grammar check. And even better to invest in some proper proofreading, which makes you look truly professional.

7. Don’t write when you’re meant to be listening.

Texting, replying to emails, updating your Facebook page, posting a tweet … but what are you NOT doing during all this writing? Put down your device and listen up. Who’s trying to talk to you? Your colleague, client, manager, supplier, lawyer?

These 7 rules for work writing are not hard. And they definitely keep us more conscious of our ‘rudeness footprint’.

For more about writing manners, check out the thoughts of business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore in The Wall Street Journal last year.