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The Do's and Don't's of Digital Communication

[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]

"Dear David," I began my email. It was a copy-paste kind of email, highly impersonal and simultaneously necessary. Not all corporate communication can taste good, right?

I backspaced "David," and wrote instead, "Dear Mr. So-and-So." I'm not sure David and I are on a first name basis. I've never met him, after all, and some people like to take umbrage in such minor acts of familiarity. "Mr. So-and-So" seemed a bit stuffy though, and a bit difficult to justify, given that some men swing the opposite, and prefer first-name niceties. All this email was was a nicety, after all, a chirky but thoughtfully worded "How do ya do?" with the insignia of my employer emblazoned across my signature line.

Written communication leaves much on the table. Just the other day, I was in a foul mood and received a playful text from my boyfriend. I rolled my eyes and typed back a snarky reply before quickly backspacing and putting my phone down. I'd reply later, when my mood wasn't so compromised. He had no way of knowing that his text was coming at a bad moment, and would be confused by a snarky reply.

Because I'm a writer, written communication has become the bane of my existence. If only everyone would adopt the oxford comma, all would be well in my world. Instead, I begrudgingly correct typos and grammatical errors, patiently awaiting the day when I simply care less. In the meantime, I've compiled a succinct and useful list of digital communication do's and don't's. You can thank me later.

Do be concise.

There is nothing worse than a pages-long email or an enormous text message. You are not the next great American novelist. You are simply not making your point. Be succinct, and your chances of receiving a response exponentially increase.

Don't be vague.

If you're asking a colleague for something, don't make them guess. Same is true of communications with friends or family. Written communication can be easily misinterpreted, so it's best to be as direct as possible.

Do be consistent.

Someone named Zak Frazer said, "The key to success is consistency." Profound, right? But the sentiment holds true, especially for digital communication. Be consistent not only with the timing and frequency of your messages, but with the content as well.

Don't use excessive emojis.

I once met a man who would use the most random emojis (unicorns, rocket ships, butterflies, the 100% sign, etc) with absolutely zero context. "Good Morning! *unicorn-rocket-100%" is annoying. Emojis are useful in exemplifying context. Adding a smiley face is an easy way to show that your message is friendly and so forth. But there are emojis for just about every activity imaginable; don't be the person who always adds the bar of soap to just really highlight that you took a bath. In business communication, emojis can be especially damning. There are about 170,000 words in the English language, I promise you can find the right one.

Do consider your audience.

This one is as obvious as it is important. How you communicate with your best friend should be different than how you communicate with your grandmummy should be different than how you communicate with your boss. Although the English language has about 170,000 words, words aren't all that matters. Context, relationship history, and medium should all be taken into consideration. How I write on this blog is vastly different than how I write emails or letters or grants or texts. Don't be a dick; consider your audience.

Don't overuse abbreviations or acronyms.

This is apropos to both work and life in general. If I receive a text littered with abbreviations, I probably won't respond if I don't know what it means. Besides, how difficult is it to write, "I'll be right back?" Be direct and concise, but don't assume everyone is in on the abbreviation. This is also pertinent in the workplace, in which every industry has an encyclopedia of acronyms that most other people do not and should not know. Don't be a dick; avoid the acronyms.

Do offer a way to continue the conversation.

In a business email, this looks something like, "I'll follow up with you by Thursday morning," or "Let's chat about this. Do you have time for a quick phone call next Monday at noon?" In your personal life, this looks something like, "Let's chat again soon!" or "Let my know how such-and-such goes," or even a simple, "I love you," since usually one doesn't ghost a person one loves.

Don't spam anybody.

This holds true for professional correspondence as well as friends/family members. If someone doesn't respond promptly assume they are busy at the moment. If someone doesn't respond for days, assume they don't want to talk to you. If you are awaiting a critical response from a colleague, for example, do what I do and forward the original message with a slightly passive aggressive "Just following up."

P.S. I hope these tips are endlessly helpful. For additional writing tips, check out Grammar Girl (aka, Mignon Fogarty) on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, et cetera. Her podcasts are short but informative-usually under 10 minutes.


Sarah Rose

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