Style As Communication

By | June 14, 2009

A couple weeks ago I read an article. I don’t remember the title, links, topic, or most of the content of the article; indeed, I likely should never have read it. I would have forgotten it altogether except one suggestion that you should ensure the signature on e-mails sent from your blackberry or iphone says “Sent from my blackberry/iphone”. In theory, this allows the recipient to know you were on a mobile when you sent the message and they can excuse the brevity and grammatical errors that tend to occur when typing a message on such devices.

When I receive a one-line comment followed by a second line stating ‘sent from my Blackberry’, my first thought is not, “Ah, they were mobile, they weren’t able to type a polite response”. To the contrary, I tend to think, “They couldn’t be bothered to go back to the office and send me a well-crafted reply. How can I trust they even thought about the question at hand?”

The thing is, how things are worded sends as much information as the words themselves. Critics of the Internet age have long pointed out that face-to-face communication is better because you can pick up on so many non-verbal cues in their gestures, posture, tone, and expression. Yet nobody realizes that text-based communication also says plenty about you and about the message you are conveying.

While we are instructed to ensure our cover letters and resumes have no grammatical errors because it makes a bad impression, in day-to-day business or interpersonal dealings, nobody worries over such things. We’ve all seen the despicable language that has evolved to support the character limits in Twitter and text messaging. It makes the most erudite communicators look like fools.

The full qwerty keyboard on my HTC dream is terrific, but I don’t get anywhere near the 100WPM I can get on my computer keyboard. Messages typed on the mobile can be painful to compose. I always put forth the effort to ensure my grammar is correct and the style is the way I want to sound. It takes me a while and I can’t supply that impressive immediate reply that mobile devices are famous for. But I can give you a hand-crafted response styled ‘just so’, to give you exactly the interpretation I wish you to receive. Chances are I won’t send the message until I get home and review it at a full keyboard where edits are easier.

One can argue that putting an emphasis on grammar and style is a waste of time and the world is clearly learning to evaluate only the content of messages. This is a shame. It restricts our ability to communicate. Properly wielded, style can say so much more than mere content ever will. Like pictures, style can be worth a thousand words. Instead of abandoning style altogether, we should cultivate it, use it as a secondary channel, its own medium of communication.

As a fitting example, compare the following two messages I received recently when trying to sell a desk online:

CALL ME. 416-###-####


Hi I am interested in the corner desk you are advertising on craigslist. What are the dimension of the desk? And where in Toronto would I be picking it up from?

When I read these messages, I felt that Emily was more likely to be truly interested in the desk. I felt she would follow through on any commitment she made. I felt she could be believed and trusted. I felt she would let me know if she was going to be late or couldn’t make her appointment. I felt she was friendly and would be a pleasure to deal with.

Emily is now the happy new owner of my corner desk.

She only typed three short sentences, but gave me several paragraphs of information. The former request only typed two words and a phone number. They also gave me several paragraphs of information.

I never called.

2 thoughts on “Style As Communication

  1. Xentac

    To add to your point, it’s even worse when you can’t actually understand the email. If I have to read your email and ask other people, “what do you think she’s trying to do?”, it conveys even more meaning than it intended.

  2. pyther

    I could not agree more! I always try to use my best grammar and spelling when I am composing emails. I do some work for an individual who claims that email is extremely important to her business. However, 9 out of 10 times the emails she sends to me are in fragments and make little sense. Needless to say, if I was interested in her services and recieved an email from her, I would go to someone else.


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