Business Email 101

emailEducause has released their study of Students and Information Technology, 2007.  There’s not much startling in this report, which the authors characterize as a detailing of evolution, rather than revolution.  More students are using content management systems than ever. More have laptops than ever.  Many have complaints about the unhelpfulness of the college help desk, and the lack of expertise demonstrated by their instructors when the instructors incorporate technology into the curriculum.  Most use email to reach instructors and other institutional staff, and facebook, IM or text messaging to reach each other.

Indeed, email appears to have acquired something of a professional patina. What once seemed like a perfect medium for a quick note, looks, by comparison to the more immediate modalities of chat and instant messaging and mobile text messaging, more and more like something the old folks use to produce official correspondence.

Unfortunately, email’s rise to prominence for this kind of communication has not been accompanied by an initiative to teach the art of formal business correspondence.  High school writing texts still teach the formal business letter, which, while not having gone the way of the dinosaur quite yet, is sufficiently beyond the experience of most students to seem utterly irrelevant.

That this gap has significant repercussions for young people was illustrated this week at a college recruiting information session I attended with my daughter.  Representatives from several schools offered general tips on how to conduct a successful college search.  One of them spoke to the issue of email, addressing issues which startled me:

Email is an excellent way to reach us.  You may want to consider obtaining a separate email address for your college correspondence. That address should be “family friendly.”  You would not believe some of the addresses we see in our inboxes!

Please use actual words. At our prestigious institution of higher learning, we recognize “to”, “too”, and “2” as separate and independent concepts.  We appreciate correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.  Please use complete sentences.

Yikes. On the one hand, I’m appalled. On the other, how the heck are kids, or for that matter, our employees,  supposed to know what is expected in formal business correspondence if we don’t teach them?