Email Writing Syndrome—
Are You at Risk?
Copyright 2005; 2012 by Patricia Anderson
Email Writing Syndrome (EWS) is the latest debilitating side-effect of the email overload in our home and working lives. A delusional condition of varying severity, EWS causes susceptible writers to confuse the freewheeling style of email messages with actual, effective writing. To find out if you might be at risk, take the following diagnostic test:
Does this text look RIGHT?!!! To YOU - I mean.........If you answered yes - then you could be suffering from EWS, your writing could be in serious trouble, you might never find your way out of this sentence...............!!!
EWS is contagious; it can infect anyone who sends and receives a lot of email messages. If left uncontrolled, the symptoms spread to traditional forms of writing: books, manuals, articles, term papers, corporate reports, formal letters, and so on. Emerging book authors are among those most likely to suffer irreversible damage, because to achieve their particular goals, they must meet a high standard of writing.
If you are an aspiring book author, EWS can't kill you, but taken to extremes, it is fatal to your writing style—and thus to your chances of successful publication. This is due to the adverse effects it has on agents, editors, booksellers, and readers. Overexposure to EWS can cause spots in front of the reader's eyes, dizziness, confusion, obsessive hair-tearing, uncontrollable cursing, and temporary psychosis.
The telltale signs of a book manuscript or other written work created under the influence of EWS include:
1. No paragraphs (even though the topic changes) or, alternatively, many one-sentence paragraphs.
I am speaking of paragraphs like this.
The result is disjointed writing.
See what I mean?
2. Hyphens everywhere in place of correct punctuation.
I mean like this - or this - to connect thoughts - sort of - well - maybe not.
3. Sentence fragments.
Short incomplete thoughts. Many thoughts. Over and over. Choppy. Ultimately unreadable.
4. Run-on sentences.
Run-on sentences contain several complete thoughts, each thought is separated by a comma, using commas in this way is grammatically wrong, I am doing it here to illustrate my point.
5. One UA or IA after another—that is, Unexplained Acronym or Idiosyncratic Abbreviation.
6. Ellipses...lots of them...and even more......way more......................
7. CAPITALS for EMPHASIS.
8. Loads! I mean loads!!! of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There's no harm in bending the rules and indulging in some fun with your email. But if you're writing for a serious purpose, such as publication, then you need to adopt a stylistically healthier regimen:
- Break long paragraphs into shorter ones, up to nine sentences per paragraph in most kinds of writing. Occasional one- or two-sentence paragraphs enhance drama or add emphasis. But do not overuse short paragraphs.
- Use hyphens for compound words, such as kilowatt-hour, mass-produced, ill-favored, and so on. In sentence constructions, replace hyphens with commas, semicolons, periods, or em dashes (—), which are sometimes typed as two hyphens--as shown here.
- Use sentence fragments sparingly, to add punch to your writing.
- Break up long sentences into shorter ones, or use conjunctions and semicolons to separate thoughts within a sentence. For example, the sentence used above could be corrected as follows:
Run-on sentences contain two or more complete thoughts[;] each thought is separated by a comma, [and] using commas in this way is grammatically wrong[.] I am doing it here to illustrate my point.
- Spell out acronyms or abbreviations on first use, with the shortened form immediately following—as in: Email Writing Syndrome (EWS) is the subject of this article.
- Use ellipses to signify speech trailing off in dialogue, as well as time elapsed and/or repetitive action: They walked and walked...
- Avoid using capitals for emphasis and keep exclamation marks to a minimum. Create emphasis, drama, or similar effects through language and imagery, punctuation, cadence, and occasional use of italics.
Despite all your best efforts to overcome EWS, relapsing is a possibility. For instance, when you write late into the night, you could find yourself gripped by a sudden manic urge to hyphenate, capitalize, or otherwise act out classic EWS. If this happens to you, here's my prescription:
Stop writing immediately. Go to bed, get some sleep—and email me in the morning.