Practicing good Netiquette involves deliberate thought. Some of the most common causes of negative results derived from both creating/sending or reacting to emails are from inferring, assuming or presuming. To reduce or hopefully eliminate a large part of these and improve Netiquette, it is necessary to have a fundamental understanding of inferences, assumptions or presumptions and how they can contribute to “bad” emails. Let’s begin with the definitions of these three words.
Here are some basic definitions:
Inference—something we take for granted often because of a related observation or experience or something that is factually known; that is, an educated guess.
Assumption is an accepted thing thought to be true but without proof—something taken for granted, an axiom or starting point in an argument or theory, a natural deduction. “You have to start somewhere.”
Presumption— Omnia praesumtur rite esse acta: Latin proverb that means “all things are presumed to be done in due form.” This means something is taken to be the case, based upon reasonable evidence. This is often an idea that has always been believed to be right, taken for granted, not likely to be wrong. It can also be a best possible guess or conclusion.
Any composer of an email should be careful not to use any of these means in conveying a message. For example, an inference of a “truth” to one person may indeed be not at all the same to someone else. The same can be said for assumptions or presumptions. While any of these have significant value or validity, none represent an absolute fact universally shared.
It is good Netiquette to be mindful of these potential pitfalls and refrain from sending any message which may have these attributes. Here are some basic definitions to other causes of similar flawed Netiquette use:
Over-assuming is usually a guess based on unverified information; when inferences, assumptions, or presumptions are made, obvious risks are involved. Because of the inherent possibilities that email, by its structure, can evoke, even more misunderstandings are likely to occur. Faulty assumptions can be trivial or significant, but many can be avoided with Netiquette principles and practices. As the tools and technologies available become more sophisticated, their impact creates more assumptions. A good example of this is the MS Outlook grammar check. Although helpful, it is far from infallible and can, at times, be off the mark quite considerably. This is evidenced by rationalizations that lower standards, which tolerate mistakes and due diligence, are all acceptable. The long-term trend of all of these factors—email structure, increasingly sophisticated technology, and lowering standards—increase the complacency about email senders being subpar in communication skills.
Thoroughness, clarity, and objectivity will greatly eliminate the gray areas that inference, assumption, and presumption can create. All people make multiple inferences and assumptions every day, including what and how recipients of email will conclude and the degrees of the receivers’ reactions in reading the correspondence. To be skillful in effective email writing, it is necessary to not only employ Netiquette but also to have a basic idea of those habits that can undermine one’s accuracy and effectiveness in communication.
Examples of inference and assumption
The following list summarizes some common inferences and assumptions.
1) A correspondence has been read or opened.
2) Intended emotions have been understood.
3) Specific urgency has been properly addressed.
4) Privacy will be maintained.
5) Any requests or demands will be honored.
6) The recipient wishes to receive correspondence.
7) An intended goal is accomplished.
8) Recipients will have universal reactions.
9) Schedules for meetings, calls or participatory events are open.
10) Assumptions concerning a recipient’s age, race, politics, marriage, or religion
11) The addressees will ask for clarification if emails are unclear to them.
12) If replies are not either immediate, short-cycled (i.e., responded to within a requested timeframe), or not replied to at all, the addressee is categorically rejecting the sender.
When composing the next email, remember the difference among inference, assumption and presumption. By maintaining an awareness of these situations an email sender will most often considerably increase their email’s positive effects. Share your comments and tips. Join the conversation.