How to send email like a non-metaphorical boss

When Enron collapsed and got hit with a lawsuit requesting discovery on its internal email, its top bosses decided that they'd skip spending money on pricey lawyers to go through the archive and remove immaterial messages — instead, the dumped the entire corpus of internal mail, including their employees' personal messages.

For years, social scientists have used the Enron dataset to look at information cascades, social graphs, and linguistics.

Now, in Phrases That Signal Workplace Hierarchy, Georgia Tech's Eric Gilbert applies computations lexigraphic analysis to the Enron corpus with an eye to figuring out how subordinates talk to their bosses, and how bosses talk to their subordinates, and what role gender plays in the matter.

It's a fascinating read, and suggests loads of avenues for future work. I'd love a stylometric app that rated my incoming and outgoing mails for how subordinate or bosslike they were.

"Great thanks," is on this list which shouldn't be surprising. The paper does not give contextual examples but the phrase takes many forms in boss-speak, including: "This is great thanks," in response to a delivered file, and, "That would be great thanks," at the end of a request, and even, after somebody answers a question or agrees to do something, just, "Great thanks."

"Have you been," and "I hope you," also both appear on this list. In some emails, they're used in a social context: e.g. "How have you been?" "I hope you are well." But they also were used by bosses checking up on the status of projects:

Did Tim already send you these documents for your review? If he did, have you been working with the Houston group on them or do you want to tell me about any problems?

Dan, I hope you haven't wasted much time on this one so far. Let me know where this stands. C

Aaron, I sent you a file a few days ago. I hope you could open it. Vince

The researchers also found much fewer misspellings in emails to superiors than in other emails. Another of the other big, quantifiable differences the researchers were able to find was much more of the top phrases in emails to colleagues or subordinates reflected cognitive processes — detected by comparing the phrase sets to a semantically-tagged lexicon — than the top phrases in emails to superiors.

The Linguistics of Writing an Email Like a Boss [Rosie Cima/Pricenomics]

(via Dan Hon)