Word Nerd in the Workplace, Part II: This is Not a MySpace Page

If you sat through my first article and decided that this one was worth a look-see, you must really be a sucker for punishment. This one will be much briefer (that’s such an odd word, ‘briefer’) than its predecessor, so it’s less likely to make you fall asleep at your desk. In this instalment, I’m only going to address the bedazzling, if you will, of emails between co-workers and clients.

In regards to the sub-title of this article, I wanted to give you an idea of what I was going to cover before you even clicked on the link. For anyone who isn’t familiar with MySpace, I envy you. Everyone else will probably have an idea of what I’m talking about when I say that that site was one of the best collections of internet eye-sores that has ever existed. People could have custom backgrounds and layouts that weren’t always guaranteed to actually look good. More often than not, you spent more time trying to decipher the text on the page than you spent absorbing any of the information. Memory is failing me, but I believe you could also choose whichever typeface you wanted on your page, which … ugh. Web designer’s nightmare, right there. My poor, poor retinas.

On that note, on with my point! … s. Points.

When reading through an email, one of the first things I notice is any uncommon typeface or colour used in the body of the email. Most people stick to the ‘safe’ typefaces like Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman (bah!) and so on; others like to show off their personal flair by choosing more unusual typefaces like Centaur (reasonable, though a little fancy) or Curlz (oh god). If they really feel like getting crazy, they’ll punch it up with a vibrant shade of blue or green or some other colour, and voilà: an attention-getting email! The problem is that this doesn’t catch the reader’s attention in a positive way. Over-colourful emails with funky fonts make emails look childish rather than professional, and they won’t be taken as seriously as they should be. A bit of colour and variety can be good — using a dark blue instead of black for your lovely Bookman text, for instance — but tread carefully.

In addition to everything that I’ve said thus far, I feel the need to be very outspoken on this particular aspect: never EVER use Comic Sans when you’re writing a professional email. I don’t care if you think it’s cute. I don’t care if you think it makes you seem friendly. Just stay away from it. Pretend it’s a stranger in a creepy spray-painted van who’s offering you candy. Comic Sans is, in my opinion, a typeface that is almost never used appropriately, mostly because people don’t think that it’s possible to use a typeface inappropriately. I’ve seen denture clinics, insurance offices and even money-lenders use Comic Sans for their signs. There is nothing cute or childishly wonderful about insurance, and the same can be said for professional communications. They are meant to be serious. They shouldn’t look like they were written by a six-year-old armed with a box of crayons or an overzealous intern who’s still clinging to her childhood with a cast-iron grip.

Speaking of interns (I know, not all, but some), another aspect of business communication that I take issue with are people who [try to] take a youthful approach in their communications with co-workers by using emoticons and ChatSpeak, both of which stick out like sore thumbs. I could easily rant about ChatSpeak all day, no matter where or how it’s used, but it has no place — no place — in an email to colleagues or, heaven forbid, clients. I was about to make an allowance for emails sent between co-workers who are friends, but in my opinion, you’re being paid to work and to be professional, and your communications should reflect that. (I know that almost no one will agree, but this is coming from a person who will agonize over how to word a tweet if it’s two characters over the limit so that I won’t have to use web acronyms.) I’m a little less harsh on emoticons, though I will maintain that 95% of the time, they don’t belong in a business email. Both emoticons and ChatSpeak, just like brightly-coloured text and outlandish typefaces, make the text look carefree and (in some cases) lazy, and neither of those are descriptors that should be applied to a business communiqué.

This last part had nearly slipped my mind until a friend brought it up. There are, apparently, people who still like to send emails that contain background images. I can think of at least two people in my own office who do this. Thankfully they’ve both chosen to use backgrounds that can’t obscure the text contained in the email in any way, but I know that there are still a handful of people who don’t really take that into consideration when ‘sprucing up’ their emails. Certain backgrounds can hypothetically and hyperbolically result in damaged eyeballs when combined with the wrong colour of text. Besides, you aren’t fooling anyone. We all know that it’s an email, not a postcard from the Dominican, so take off that picture of a palm tree on a beautiful beach and just tell us on a plain white background that the printer’s broken again.

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I believe that covers the more grievous offences that can be committed in the realm of office-related email use. If you have comments or other things you’d like to add, or just want to ream me out for being such a picky stick-in-the-mud (I’m sure you’re not alone), feel free to use that lovely little text box below. Cheers!

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One Comment

  1. Ben
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of Myspace, the a backgrounds, wacky typefaces and graphics were bad, but nothing was worse than the music players that would kick in and make you jump ten feet. I left Myspace a long time ago and I definitely do not miss it. But I digress…

    As you know, I work in corporate client services and communicate largely via email. I am witness to some of the biggest felonies in professional that you can imagine, everything you’ve noted above and more. The ridiculous fonts that are hard to read, people choosing yellow fonts against a while background, or stationary images that make reading the text an exercise in frustration. These are my biggest pet peeves. The text/chat speak I can deal with to an extent – it’s so common that I just let it slide, but it’s still annoying.

    Anyway, I always end each comment by saying “great article”…and this one is no different. Keep up the awesome work 🙂

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