Monday, September 27, 2010

Should I Call or E-mail?

After a recent e-mail webinar, I received a question from Tom Mello of Liberty Mutual Insurance Co in Boston, Massachusetts, about striking a balance between using e-mail and the phone. My response, in part, appears below.

The question of phone vs. e-mail will always come down to the relationship between the sender and receiver. For instance, most of my clients return my phone calls with e-mails. I infer from their choice that I should reply in kind. Some clients have not spoken on the phone with me in years. Our only means of communication, except for face to face, is by e-mail. My attitude about this situation is simple: They’re the boss, so they dictate the rules of engagement.

Here are three points I keep in mind when selecting the means of communication:
  1. Respond to my audience in the mode they initiated.
  2. Initiate by e-mail when I need a record.
  3. Initiate by phone when dealing with a complex or urgent issue that could be resolved quicker by phone.

Thanks, Mr. Mello, for having the wisdom and confidence to ask a question that occurs at work to most people without their resolving it. I welcome all questions on writing at WORDS ON THE LINE.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reprise: "How to Write a Darn Good Email" on September 21

For the seventh time, the American Management Association will run my webinar How to Write a Darn Good Email tomorrow, September 21, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The program provides tips on getting to the point, setting the right tone, and organizing complex emails. There also will be plenty of time to have your questions about email composition and management answered.

It's not too late to sign up for this reasonably priced webinar. Here's the information and registration link:

Monday, September 13, 2010

An ESL Guide, Part 7: Best Practices

I close this brief series on ESL issues with three recommendations:

  1. Listen closely to professional speakers. Many of those on TV and radio are excellent, but listening on the Internet affords the opportunity of easy pausing and playing back as needed.
  2. Read eclectically. Of course, you should read in your field, including work documents and professional journal articles, but read outside your field too. Quality daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, fiction and nonfiction books, and even a few books on writing should be in your routine reading regimen. I hesitate to recommend specific publications because virtually all will help. If you really want specific reading suggestions, write me an e-mail ( describing your reading interests, and I’ll respond with recommendations—promise!
  3. Review online ESL resources. This is easy enough. Type “ESL resources” in your favorite search engine to find an endless supply of tips, quizzes, and references to keep you busy for a long time.

Books by Philip Vassallo
How to Write Fast Under Pressure
The Art of E-mail Writing
The Art of On-the-Job Writing
The Inwardness of the Outward Gaze: Learning and Teaching Through Philosophy

Monday, September 06, 2010

An ESL Guide, Part 6: Idioms

English has thousands of idioms. I frequently hear from ESL learners that they enjoy learning idioms because using them appropriately demonstrates a great facility with the language. An important issue for writing at work is knowing which idioms would seem acceptable in e-mail. Would it be preferable to write:
  • “I get it” or “I understand”? I prefer the more formal “I understand.”
  • “Let’s talk it over” or “Let’s discuss it”? I have no preference.
  • “I didn’t get around to it” or “I did not have time to do it”? I don’t like either, preferring a more positive, “I needed more time.”
  • “I changed my mind” or “I reversed my opinion”? I prefer the idiom “I changed my mind.”

Two sites, and offer good lists of idioms, yet the best way to master them is to read diversely and abundantly and listen carefully to respected communicators.

Books by Philip Vassallo
How to Write Fast Under Pressure
The Art of E-mail Writing
The Art of On-the-Job Writing
The Inwardness of the Outward Gaze: Learning and Teaching Through Philosophy