Truly helpful – NOT!
I love getting emails about this column. Even when I make mistakes, the reader emails are fantastic.
When I made the mistake a while back using the adverb badly instead of the adjective bad, my inbox was bursting with helpful corrections. Most of them were tremendously kind and read more like apologies than corrections. Others were more critical, but there’s no harm in that. I made a pretty basic mistake, so I deserved to be called out on it.
Last week, however, I got the most hilarious email I have ever received in regard (I think) to this column. I have to share it with you. The message line read, “Your article is wonderful!” This is the body of the email (italics are mine):
(NOT)You have made many mistakes in your recent articles. Overall your articles have to many mistakes to be an efficient read, and a good use of time.
How truly helpful and beneficial to receive such a well-worded and specific critique of my work! I was pleased to get some constructive advice for improving my writing.
Okay, I’ll stop with the sarcasm and get to the grammar.
If you read, see or hear something which prompts you to write a letter to the responsible party, there are a few guidelines you need to keep in mind in order to be effective and in turn to keep from wasting your own and someone else’s time.
Be clear. Any time you feel the need to critique or compliment someone in a letter or email, it’s important to be as specific as possible. I write more for Current than this column, and I also do some other freelance writing. It’s entirely possible the email is criticizing something I wrote for another publication entirely. But who knows? The critique isn’t specific about the article, column or publication. It also doesn’t point out any specific mistakes. That could lead the reader to believe the complaint may not be based in fact.
Be professional. Using a decades-old single-word taunt isn’t the best foot to put forward. It’s important for your recipient to take your concern seriously and not double over laughing before making it to your first complete sentence. I realize I’m not setting a great example here with my heavy-handed use of sarcasm.
Be correct. I’m not saying I haven’t made any mistakes in recent articles. I’ve noticed typos and some formatting issues that I’m working to correct. What I mean here, though, is you should use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. I notice at least four glaring errors in the text of the complaint.
Sign your name. Unless you feel threatened by the party in question (and I hardly think I am a threatening force), your signature shows that you are serious about the critique in question. Failing to sign is akin to heckling at a huge event: it probably won’t interrupt the show, and hecklers are rarely taken seriously by anyone – even those who may agree with them. And make certain the party you address can contact you for more information, an apology or a word of thanks. In this case, I have a rather anonymous email address, but it’s something.
And please, readers, keep the emails coming. I always enjoy thoughtfully written emails, even when they disagree with me.