Email and other forms of communication

  • Results from the study show that the use of work-related email is on the increase, with half of those in the research group reporting they use email for over an hour each day. However, people are spending just as much time talking to each other and the most common form of communication is still face to face.
  • Face to face interaction is still considered important for dealing with matters of a personal, sensitive or confidential nature.
  • The growth in the use of email has led to a decline in the use of some other forms of communication, especially letters and memos. But email has not reduced the need for meetings, or the amount of time people spend at them.

Some advantages of email

Survey respondents considered email offered a number of advantages as a form of workplace communication.

  • Ideal for a range of routine tasks:
    • sending and seeking information
    • scheduling meetings
    • giving feedback and instructions and making requests
  • Flexible and fast
  • Can reach many people at once
  • Doesn't depend on someone being in their office
  • People can attend to it at their own convenience

The potential for miscommunication using email

  • The lack of visual, auditory or physical cues can lead to miscommunication, and as people perceive email as being more like speech than writing there is a greater potential for communication breakdown.
  • Email is also seen as not being very suitable for conveying complex information or information that could be misinterpreted.
  • An email can send hidden messages:
    • The absence or presence of a greeting or close, or the type of greeting or closing used, conveys a message about the relationship between the sender and receiver.
    • The way in which an email message is written can also give cues as to the emotional state of the writer. For example, abbreviated sentences may give the receiver the feeling that the person on the other end is short-tempered and aggressive and in a professional context, misspellings may smack of a 'she'll be right' attitude.
  • Meaning can be lost when emails are:
    • too brief or abbreviated
    • too longwinded
  • Miscommunication can happen when the sender makes incorrect or inappropriate assumptions, i.e. when the email refers to previous email history that has not been forwarded on or to a conversation that has not been directly referred to.

Characteristics of good email messages

Survey respondents preferred email messages with the following features:

  • A subject line which clearly defines the topic. It is important for the recipient to know if they need to read the message and how urgent it is unless it is part of an on-going dialogue. This provides a personal touch and can help to establish a positive tone in an email.
  • Message content that is:
    • Concise and to the point. Messages that are longer than half a page may be better sent as attachments as long emails are difficult to read.
    • Clear, coherent, unambiguous, and accurate.
    • Courteous and avoids the use of unnecessary capital letters, exclamation marks, underlining and the colour red. These can convey anger.
    • Sparing in its use of emoticons or smiley faces, as many people don't like these.
    • Work-related and relevant to the recipient.
  • Other suggestions included:
    • Avoid sending email to someone sitting physically close. In general, people do not appreciate being sent an email by someone who could easily pass on that message in person.
    • Don't forward non-related work messages, as these can be time consuming and annoying for the receiver.
    • Reply promptly in acknowledgement.
    • Exercise discretion because email is a written record and a public medium.


Please see our list of publications on Email in the Bibliographies section.