Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More on saying what you mean, coming up...

I just got back into town after one of two speaking engagements and checked my work email to find more examples of written imprecision and casualness. While I appreciated my colleagues making sure that our clients were taken care of and staying on top of our projects, it's a bit disconcerting to see casualness in emails coming out of your office to new consultants. Here's the email I got from a consultant:


[The owner's rep] asked if you could provide me with a PDF of the [project name] lobby.
Can you turn off the notes and reflective ceiling plan... we just need a simple plan (PDF) that can be opened in Illustrator and used for a temporary signage plan.

[Consultant's name]

I forwarded the email to a colleague and asked him to send this consultant the plan he needed. He did so the very next day, attached to an email that said:

Morning, please find attached a pdf that should work for ya

It's the "ya" that is a little too informal for writing to someone with whom we have not worked before and have not met face to face. The brevity of the email is fine, although I would also include a "please let me know if you need anything else. Thanks, Lulu."

A couple of weeks ago, I emailed another colleague regarding whether she would be making a visit to the project where we were renovating a pharmacy, receiving area, and laboratory. I also complimented her on her Revit skills (she was finally learning the software after a long time working in CAD), and I offered to help her with it when she needed it. Her reply was this:

You are a rock star
I need to get meds figured out.

Here's the thing: She had had a medical scare that landed her in the hospital a couple of months before, so I couldn't quite tell if she was saying "My medication from that health scare is still not settled, so please be patient with me while I readjust at work" or if she was saying "I need to do some more on-site research and measurements so I can show the correct equipment and shelving in the medication storage area of the pharmacy" or if she was saying "I need to do some more work on the project's drawings before I go back to the site." Turns out she meant the second of those three responses, but how was I to know from the two short lines above? A simple "yes, I'll be going to the site to take some measurements and photos tomorrow morning" would have told me everything I needed to know. Instead, I had to call her to clarify the yes-or-no I was seeking.

I cannot stress enough to you how important it is to write clearly, and writing clearly is a product of thinking clearly. Have a clear purpose to your correspondence--do you need a drawing by a certain time, or specific information on a product?--and then read and reread your email to make sure the question is plain to understand.

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