How to Read E-Mail Messages

Written in a politically caustic work place.
Copyright (C) 1995, by Ashley Guberman

  1. Scan the message header to see who sent the message so that you know what state of mind to put yourself in before opening it. It is vitally important that all messages are read with the proper set of preconceptions.
  2. Look for key-markers in the message header such as the following:
    RE: The E-mail is return fire from a prior attack.
    FWD: You are being brought into the battle as reinforcement
    CC: The sender has alerted others of the attack.
    BCC: The sender does not want others to know you are an ally.
  3. Scan the message for emotional content, looking especially for anything that might be remotely offensive. Pay special attention to items with a high potential to be misconstrued, distorted, or otherwise used as future ammunition in return E-mails.
  4. Look for something that supports the preconceptions in step 1 – anything will do. Disregard items which counter those preconceptions as flukes not indicative of the sender’s true character. If the message is exceptionally brief, you may need to read between the lines for things like negative tone or hostility.
  5. Save the message, since it may be needed as evidence in the future. Time permitting, save only the parts that are relevant to your cause, and remove them from the context of non-essential information such as basic content.
  6. Optional: Read the message. Be careful not to get too caught up in little things like the intended information.
  7. At your discretion, either return fire, or blatantly ignore the entire thing. Because so much E-mail can be sent return-receipt, a deliberate failure to respond can often be as effective as any response you might otherwise imagine.

Bonus Phrases, just for the auditors…


  1. I could get into trouble for telling you this, but…
  2. Delete this e-mail immediately.
  3. I really shouldn’t put this in writing.
  4. Don’t tell So-and-So.” Or, “Don’t send this to So-and-So.
  5. She/He/They will never find out.
  6. We’re going to do this differently than normal.
  7. I don’t think I am supposed to know this, but…
  8. I don’t want to discuss this in e-mail. Please give me a call.
  9. Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.
  10. Is this actually legal?

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