Posted by: Jack Henry | May 2, 2019

Editor’s Corner: IM or Email

Although this isn’t technically a writing issue, it is a communication issue, and it is definitely a workplace issue. Several people have asked me to discuss the proper mode of written communication between work colleagues. The question actually is, when is it appropriate to use IM (or Skype®) and when is it appropriate to use email? The short answer is that IM is best used for short, quick conversations when you’re in a hurry. It can be disruptive, however, so when you are not pressed for time, email is usually the better option because it allows the recipient to answer at his or her convenience.

The long answer is provided in an article written by CBS News. It’s so long, that I took the liberty of abbreviating it for your convenience.

Instant messaging is best used when

  • It’s a simple question requiring a simple answer. You might use IM to ask, "What time is that conference call?"
  • Timeliness is the key factor in the communication. If you’re on a conference call and you want to give some information to the meeting leader without interrupting the speaker, send an IM.
  • You already have a working relationship and have developed some short-hand. Both parties know what’s going on and don’t need a lot of context.
  • Informality is appropriate. You probably shouldn’t IM the CEO.
  • It’s just the two of you. While you can IM with multiple participants, more than two people can get a little confusing.
  • You can truly multitask. If you spend a lot of time on the phone, IM is a great way to get informal information to people.
  • Both parties are working at the same time. The implication is that both parties are working, and it isn’t a big deal for the other person to respond immediately. If you’re not available and don’t want to be interrupted, set your status appropriately.

On the other hand, email can be the best option when

  • The answer actually requires thought or detail. One well thought out email can replace multiple panicky instant messages.
  • Documentation is important. Email gives you an easy-to-access history to verify your past correspondence.
  • You need to position the request, the information you’re sending, and who the heck you are. It’s only polite to introduce yourself and what you’re asking for before intruding on someone’s work day. Carefully laying out your request also makes it much easier for the other person to respond appropriately.

Enjoy your day!

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

Symitar Documentation Services

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