Two Questions, One Email

Sometimes it’s necessary to ask someone several questions.  It has been my experience that there is a better-than-even chance that an email containing more than one question will trigger a return email with a response to one question.  This applies outside of the maintenance programming world, but nowhere else in my life is it quite as reliable as in my profession.

My theory on this is that majority of the population above a certain age are used to conversation, wherein you usually speak about one topic at a time.  People who are involved in debates on a regular basis, however – and here I include the vast majority of people who used internet sites about things they care about – get used to the idea of writing and addressing multiple ideas at once.  This is partially borne out by the fact that conversations with people under thirty often involve multiple simultaneous streams, especially when chatting over text using SMS- or Facebook-type interfaces.

At some point you have to use the Adapter pattern to deal with this.  It’s hard to remember, and it’s annoying at both ends, but sometimes it’s better to send several emails to ask several questions.  Sometimes it’s better to break an email apart into different subjects, a la

Thing 1
– Are we ready to do this?

Thing 2
– What is the next step?

This is very much a personal thing; depending on the age and technical savvy of the ask-ee, it may be necessary to pick up the phone and call in this situation.  I’ve heard at least one CEO suggest that talking on the phone is the better method for communication, which it isn’t – there’s no documentation of the conversation, for one thing – but now and then it’s still useful to have the tool at your disposal.  Cultivating quick, clear conversational speech is never going to go astray.

As in all things maintenance, it’s key to know who you’re dealing with.  Different people will require different strategies.  Just be aware that the concern exists, and try to pay attention when sending out those multi-pronged emails.