How to Write Email That Works for Sane, Online Discussion

Do your emails get you into arguments or misunderstandings? Find out how to write email, especially business email, to keep online communication factual and calm.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #257

How to Add Citations When You Write Email

One thing people do all the time online is throw out “facts” (quote-unquote) that they found online. Usually from a hysterical blogger who agrees with their views on a controversial issue, but who is disconnected from reality just enough to have no problem making up “facts.”

When you’re sharing facts and figures, make sure you have high-quality sources. Even though we now have a substantial portion of the entire human race’s information at our fingertips, I’m always amazed at how rarely anyone (including me!) actually bothers to do even small amounts of research before opening their mouths. Don’t make my mistakes! If you’re going to claim that a country just dropped its trade barriers so you should expand operations into that country, spend 30 seconds on Google and verify the story.

And please, use high-quality sources. Don’t quote Hysterical Blogger 318, your favorite Hollywood celebrity, or hearsay. Find facts and figures from non-partisan sources or news sources that still have high journalistic standards. If the sources are online, include a link in your message.

As the gun control debates raged on in late 2012, to the extent that I participated in the so-called conversation, I included citations. I would put links to statistics from FBI.GOV, the National Institute of Justice, and the Harvard School of Public Health in my posts. It didn’t calm anyone down, but it certainly prevented them from mindlessly calling me names. Now if only everyone had included actual data, we could have had a productive policy discussion. As it was, citations helped keep the heat level mostly under control. Which is good. Because half the participants were packing heat.

Do This Even If They Attack

Speaking of packing heat, it’s the 21st century. You just might post status updates to the world that give your exact GPS location. That means they know where you live, and your followers might just be a little bit wacko.

Even if they start to attack, keep it calm!

Which makes it all the more important to keep your composure when they fly off the handle. Even if they start to attack you personally with made-up facts that are really just ungrounded opinion, stick to these guidelines! Keep it calm, level-headed, and impersonal.

See Also: How to Write Better Emails

You see, it’s important to remember when you write email or status updates that anything you put online is permanent. If someone takes a screen shot or saves a copy of the conversation, it could surface a few years from now and do all kinds of damage to your reputation. Everything you type online may someday be visible to a future employer, so treat it not as writing, but as publishing. No matter how private you believe the forum.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.