Courtesy is the oil that lubricates the wheels of communication, especially in the case of the written word, where tones of voice, facial expressions, and gestures are not available to temper what we write. That a document is attached to an email rather than hand-delivered does not absolve us of the need to thank the author. Indeed, correspondence should always be respectful, not only because this is expected in a collegial community like Princeton but also because these qualities will serve you well. In the words of 17th-century French bishop Francis de Sales, “You will catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.”
The “salutation” and “complimentary close” that distinguish traditional letters and notes also apply to emails, at least when initial contact is made. Only when email functions as a conversation, with multiple exchanges, should you dispense with this convention.
Since the brevity of many emails can make them seem abrupt, soften their edges by using constructions such as “I would be grateful if,” “Thank you for contacting me,” or “I appreciate your concerns.”
Never write an email in anger, as this will probably exacerbate the problem that has irritated you. Find another way to let off steam and, before you do express yourself in writing, consider whether a conversation would serve you better.
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