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BY THOMAS G. QUINN, OD, MS, FAAO
E-mail is one of the most commonly used forms of communication in today's society. According to a survey reported on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Web site (www.ntia.doc.gov), in 2001 61.6 percent of college graduates in the United States reported using e-mail. Of the general population, 45.2 percent used e-mail, a 10-percent increase from the previous year.
Using E-mail Effectively
With its use always increasing, it's beneficial to know how to use e-mail properly. Following are some tips for using e-mail effectively.
Use a descriptive subject line. Don't keep your recipient in suspense about the content of your message. Yours is often competing with a list of other messages. The more descriptive your subject line, the less likely your message will get deleted in a mass e-mail purge.
Be concise. As visual scientists, we understand that it's more difficult to read text on a computer screen than on paper. It helps our focus system when we hold the object of interest such as a book or a magazine.
When reading e-mail, our hands are often on a keypad rather than on the display screen, forcing our focus system to work harder. In addition, our extraocular muscles are more comfortable moving horizontally than vertically, so long, drawn-out text that requires vertical scrolling can add to ocular discomfort.
These visual challenges, combined with the time demands we all face in today's fast-paced society and the increasing use of small-screen devices such as PDAs, encourage brevity in e-mail messages.
Another tip for easing readers' visual demand is to use blank lines to separate paragraphs within your messages.
Assume your message will be forwarded. You're probably familiar with the sentiment "Don't say anything about someone you wouldn't say to his face." The same holds true for e-mail messages. Avoid making harmful or tactless statements that may be forwarded and read by someone other than the original recipient.
Read before sending. Take a moment before clicking on the send button and review the contents of your message. Make sure it says what you intend to say. This step helps you communicate clearly, avoiding confusion and wasted time.
Use Bcc when sending to large groups. When sending a message to a large group, consider entering the recipient's names in the Bcc (blind copy) field. This will prevent readers from having to scroll through a huge list of names and e-mail addresses before getting to the content of your message. Additionally, some recipients may not want their e-mail addresses sent to a large group of people they may or may not know.
Put your name in the To field to assure receivers that your message isn't spam.
Rules for reply. Reply to e-mail messages in a timely manner. Check for messages at least once a day, particularly if you use e-mail for business communication. If a reply will take some time to compose, or you simply don't have time to reply immediately, send a brief acknowledgement that you received the message and will respond in more detail in the near future. This saves the original author worry about the message being lost in cyberspace, and saves you from receiving a follow-up e-mail asking if you received the original message.
Send a reply only to those who need to receive it. Avoid developing the habit of clicking on Reply All. You'll save your contacts the aggravation of having to peruse messages that don't really concern them.
Don't use all caps. In the world of e-mail, capitalizing all the letters comes across as shouting. All capitalized text is also more difficult to read. As vision specialists, let's do our part to keep e-mail visually friendly and overall user friendly. CLS
Dr. Quinn is in group practice in Athens, Ohio. He is a diplomate of the Cornea and Contact Lens Section of the American Academy of Optometry and an advisor to the GP Lens Institute.