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  • 17 November 2005
  • Professor’s book explains “Netiquette” of the email age

    Email disaster stories are the stuff of office legend: the joke at the boss's expense, accidentally sent to the boss; the love note mailed to 50 business clients; or the attachment that displays dozens of your holiday snaps instead of that vital set of meeting minutes.

    Similar embarrassments and other sloppy writing habits at work can be avoided, says a new book by Professor Larry Trask (How to Write Effective Emails, Penguin, £6.99), by observing a whole new set of dos and don'ts - or "Netiquette" - when using email at work and in everyday life.

    "Emails are typically hasty. . .[but] when you are writing a serious email, absolutely the last thing you should be trying to do is to save yourself a little time," writes Professor Trask in the book. "What you should be doing instead is to make life easy for the people you are mailing."

    The book, published posthumously this year (Professor Trask, an eminent linguistics scholar, died in March 2004), provides practical instruction on using the technical tools of email, advice on presentation and re-visits the ground rules of the clear and courteous style required when writing for business or to strangers.

    Part of the Writers' Guides series by Penguin, the book's commonsense style is spiked with the pithy wit that typified Professor Trask's approach to his subject.

    Tips include:


    • Use the subject line carefully: A clear and accurate summary of the content of your email will encourage the reader to attend to it;


    • Be aware of time differences when emailing abroad: you can hardly ask for a prompt reply if the recipient's working day is lagging 12 hours behind yours;


    • If you need to send an attachment to a stranger, introduce yourself first, as attachments from unidentified sources are likely to end up in the waste basket.

    The book was commissioned when Professor Trask, a world authority on the Basque language, was in the preliminary stages of motor neurone disease. Robbed early on of his voice, Professor Trask came to rely on his laptop, a "talking" keyboard and, increasingly, on email to communicate with colleagues, publishers and friends until the day he died.

    His widow Jan says: "Larry enjoyed writing. Having access to the laptop and email allowed him to work throughout his illness. His book on email writing, which turned out to be his last, appealed to him because he was a great one for courtesy - he was considerate of people's feelings. One of the points he makes in the book is 'Why should you be sloppy just because it's email?' It's all about the etiquette of writing for modern times."



    Notes for editors 

    For press copies of How to Write Effective Emails, please contact Jenny Dean at Penguim on 020 7010 3156 or email

    University of Sussex press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing, tel: 01273 678209 or email or


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