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Get the Word Out, Part Three: Think Like a Newsperson

March 13th, 2015 Robin Chace

Welcome to the third and final installation of Get the Word Out. This week, we’re focusing on using your email’s own text to attract readers. It helps to put yourself into the mindset of a traditional newspaper writer.


Imagine Lou Grant as your grumpy fairy godeditor.

Traditional, printed newspapers have limited space, so articles often get cut short to fit into the layout. News writers put the main points (i.e. the 5 Ws) at the start of their article, then fill in additional details below. This way, the pertinent information will remain if the article is truncated.

Think of your readers’ attention span as an overworked news editor poised to chop off anything past the first paragraph. Here’s how to adapt:

Don’t bury the lede

Use a clear, specific subject line: let your readers know why this email is worth opening in the first place. A generic subject (“Weekly Newsletter”) is not likely to pique anyone’s interest, but something more specific (“News: Breakroom Foosball”) will work better. Read this post for more in-depth suggestions.

In the body of your email, get the salient points out in the first sentence or two—before your reader can get distracted. Also, remember that modern inboxes show a preview of the first 100 characters or so of an email, so use this to your advantage!

Seriously, take the preview text into account!

Seriously, take the preview text into account!

Keep it short

A wall of text is intimidating, and an overwhelmed user won’t even begin to read one in an email (even if they earmark it “for later”). Make your email feel like less of a chore to read:

  • Shave down unnecessary words (but not to the point of sounding robotic)
  • Combine ideas into one phrase (where reasonable)
  • Use short paragraphs and lists to break up the text into manageable chunks
Figure recoiling in fear at a long, dense string of text with no paragraph breaks.

This illustration from demonstrates the “wall of text” effect.

This document is broken up into sections to keep from overwhelming the reader

This document has been broken up into sections and steps to make it easier to read

Now, Get the Word Out!

These last three posts have addressed ways mass emails can be made more accessible and appealing to your readers. It honestly boils down to making it as easy as possible for your audience!

Canvas Update – March 2015

March 13th, 2015 Christopher Connors

Hey there! We here at ITG wanted to share a new feature of Canvas that allows you to publish or  unpublish a file directly from a Module. Here’s what Instructure has to say about the change:

Instructors can manage files directly from the Modules page. This feature aligns publishing functionality of all items within Modules and allows an instructor to publish, unpublish, or restrict a file.

First screenshot of new modules feature.

2nd screenshot of new module feature.

The state of the file is aligned with the Files Index page. If a file is unpublished within Files, the file will also be shown as unpublished on the Modules page.

Third screenshot of new Canvas module feature.

This new feature will give faculty even more control over how students will interact with their course contents. As always, if you have any questions about this or any of the other new Canvas  features presented here, don’t hesitate to contact us at or call 617-824-8090.

Get the Word Out, Part Two: Design for Devices

March 6th, 2015 Robin Chace

Last week, I wrote about increasing a mass email’s reach by making sure it’s legible for all your audience members. Today’s post is about making sure your email is legible across different devices.

Picture perfect?

You’re competing for your audience’s attention, so you want to send out something eye-catching. You’ll probably want to make sure everything looks just perfect. This can be done by making a page layout for your message, then sending the whole thing as an image, but don’t.

Why not?

This practice immediately excludes part of your audience (by being inaccessible), and can also frustrate the rest of your readers. People using mobile devices will find themselves trying to scale the image just to make the letters big enough to read, and/or scrolling in all directions to see the entire message. Also, many email clients block images by default, so your readers won’t see the message until they click “display images” or “show content.”

This is basically asking your audience to do work. Nobody wants to do work. It’s easier for them to move past your email without reading it.

Invitation image scaled to fit within an iPhone screen, then zoomed for the text to be a legible size.

This invitation is too small to read when the iPhone scales it down to fit the screen. Zooming in, however, cuts off content, requiring the reader to scroll back and forth to read it all.

So then what? Be flexible!

I understand the strong desire to make your email “pixel perfect,” but, honestly, you (and your audience!) are better served by giving up some control.

You may have heard of “responsive” design, a popular trend in web design where content is resized and rearranged to gracefully adapt to the width of any size screen, be it a 27″ iMac or an iPhone 4. You can see this in action at (if you’re on a computer, just make the browser window really small to see the effect). The Foundation website is another great example (as well as an excellent framework for creating responsive websites and web apps).

Allowing this flexibility delivers an optimal experience for each kind of device.

How can I do this?

If (like most of us) you compose your emails in an application like Outlook, stick to using the default HTML editor to write and style your content. This way, your text will be able to wrap to adapt to your readers’ screens, instead of being shrunk down to fit. It’s a basic approach, but there is nothing wrong with that!

If, however, you’re fancy enough to code your own emails, this guide from Campaign Monitor is helpful.

This invitation was created with some of Gmail’s styling options. The image scaling does not affect the text size. Also, the iPhone has made the date and times into convenient links for adding to a calendar!

Form follows function

You send mass email in order to communicate with an audience. Decorative elements are a little something extra to attract attention (they really like attention). Don’t let them steal the spotlight, though, as it will defeat the purpose of sending a message at all.

Here are some fun examples where form has perhaps overstepped function:

Set of silverware made partially of limp rope.

A “rustic-chic” silverware set by artist Giuseppe Colarusso.

Converse-style shoe with pointy toe and stiletto heel.

You probably shouldn’t play basketball in these Chucks.

Toilet with decorative goldfish in the tank.

The poor fish never had a chance…


Toast up! Toast down!


…Next week is Part 3: Think Like a Newsperson!

Get the Word Out: How to write email people will want to read

February 27th, 2015 Robin Chace

How many unread messages are in your email inbox right now? How many of them will you actually read (like, really actually read)? Do you tend to skip over marketing emails and announcements? I bet you do—your time is precious! So, when you need to send out a mass email of your own, how can you get readers to give some of their own precious time to you? This three-part blog series, Get the Word Out will tell you how, with the basic tenets being, “Don’t make your readers work,” and, “Form follows function.”

Part 1: Literally Legible and Accessible

Of course, you want your audience to literally be able to read your email. Common-sense measures like keeping your text off busy backgrounds, or using a 12–18pt font are a great start. There are also some less-obvious considerations you should make.

8 to 36pt font samples

8–10pt fonts can be too small, but 24pt or larger fonts can seem like shouting. 12–18pts is usually best for body text.

Screen-reader accessibility

Many people rely on screen-readers (programs that read text and interface elements aloud) when using a computer or mobile device. For the screen reader to work, text data must be present. This means:

  • The words of your message need to be in text-form, i.e., not part of an image. Not only does this allow screen-readers to work, it lets readers click on links you’ve included or copy/paste information (say, to put your event in their calendar).
  • All pictures need captions or alt-text to describe their contents.

When composing with an HTML editor (the default for most email programs, including OWA), use the available styling options for headers, lists, etc. A screen-reader will relate this information to the user, doing a lot to clarify your message.

HTML editors have tool bars like this one, so you can style your email without needing to know coding.

HTML editors have tool bars like this one, so you can style your emails without having to write code.

Attaching a document? Remember to apply these accessibility tips to that as well. No saving an image of text as a PDF!


Justin Timberlake keeping it classy in black white.

Did you know that about 1 in 20 of us is colorblind? That’s a lot! While red-green is the most common color vision deficiency, there are other types that you will want to account for, too. To keep everyone included, make sure you:

  • Maintain a strong light/dark contrast between your text and its background.
  • Test your email in an online colorblindness simulator, such as Coblis.
  • Easiest? Stick to black-on-white. It always works, and it’s always classy.

Colblindor is a great site for learning about what colorblindness actually is, and how it affects color perception.

The right side shows the effects of the most common type of colorblindness. Not only are red and green indistinguishable, but the entire color spectrum is shifted.

The right side demonstrates the most common type of colorblindness. Not only are red and green indistinguishable, but the entire color spectrum is shifted.

…Tune in next Friday for Part 2: Design for Devices!

Work Anywhere

February 26th, 2015 carlin_corrigan

This winter, the weather has presented many challenges for us getting to campus. We’re hoping the first signs of spring are right around the corner, but what happens if you need to get work done and you’re stuck at home?work-from-home-cat

We have several tools available so that you can securely access your personal and departmental Cabinet folders and Banner via the VPN. Your Emerson email can already be accessed from anywhere!

Check out our Work Anywhere guide for step-by-step instructions to get up and running at home:


Simplified Login

February 26th, 2015 Cyle Gage

IT is excited to announce better integration between your Emerson account and This means you can now log in to using your Emerson username and password via If you’ve logged into before, it will merge your existing profile with your Emerson credentials. You won’t lose the progress you’ve made with your courses, and it’s one less password to remember.

For more information and sign-up instructions, please visit our Guide at: or come to our Learn with Workshop on Friday, March 13th, 2015, from 12pm to 1pm in Walker 418 (ATL).

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the IT Help Desk by phone at 617-824-8080 or online at

IT Customer Service Report, Fall 2014 Wrapup

February 13th, 2015 michael_jessen

As part of IT’s Service Excellence Commitment, we’ve pledged to regularly review statistics on response time, resolution time, and user satisfaction. We do that weekly, and we’d like to share some of that data with the community. Now that we’re settling into the Spring semester, let’s take a look back at the Fall 2014 semester.


Top Issues and Submission Methods

We had two big questions we were looking to answer at the end of the semester. What are the main issues everyone is reporting to us? And how are they reporting it?

By a pretty healthy margin, we’re getting the most calls for Hardware problems on campus. This includes most any computer problem that’s not software related. If you were to call the Help Desk about a slow computer, or a printer, or a peripheral, these are all categorized under Hardware, so this makes a lot of sense. Our next largest category, “Online Systems”, encompasses a few different large services, such as ECmail, Canvas, Median, and Spacebook. So, it’s no surprise that’s a huge category!

And how do people prefer to report problems to us? Overwhelmingly, our tickets still come in by phone. Since we introduced our Self-Service ticketing, those have also become very popular! A good number of people also prefer to simply walk into the Help Desk and report their problem in person! Of course, much of that depends on circumstance, what the problem is, and where you happen to be at the time.

Total IT Tickets

From 8/25 to 12/16, IT took in 5,489 tickets! This includes walk-ups to the Help Desk, phone calls, email requests, and self-service initiated tickets. As well as tickets IT staff entered for work we were asked to do. That’s an average of just over 343 every week!


Response Times

Over four months, and factoring in business hours, we averaged 13.5 hours to first response. Importantly, this is an average over all IT tickets – not every kind of ticket requires an immediate customer email, and this does not mean that we weren’t working on the ticket inside of those 13 hours. One of our departmental goals, however, has been to increase our customer communication levels, so we’re looking for this number to go down.

We averaged just under 22 hours until resolution, which again, is across all departments of IT. You’ll also see some long-term project-based tickets listed below.

Average business time to first response: 0 day(s) 13 hour(s) 32 minute(s)

Average business time to resolution: 0 day(s) 21 hour(s) 48 minute(s)

When you’ve emailed, we do our best to answer you as quickly as possible! We found a median realtime response time of 2.9 hours, and a median business hours response time of 0.9 hours.

This is good, but the median represents the middle value of all the highest and lowest values. What we also found, though, was a great degree of variability outside of that median, so the highest and lowest values were quite far off from the median value. In other words, a lot of people got responses in as little as an hour, but a lot of people were left waiting between 12 and 18 hours as well. This was an interesting finding for us, and we’re working to improve this for this semester and beyond.


Customer Satisfaction

After you’ve called the Help Desk or sent us an email, we frequently will follow up with you with a survey request. These are especially important for us as they help us better understand how we’re doing and help us learn how to improve when we don’t meet your expectations.

So how did we do? We had a total of 396 survey responses over the semester, and 314 of them rated their experience as Very Satisfactory! 62 rated Satisfactory, 10 Neutral, and 6 Unsatisfactory. Only 4 people rated their experience as Very Unsatisfactory. We followed up with people when appropriate, but each time there was a negative survey, we discussed it, and tried to find a takeaway to improve.

2.5% / 2.5% / 95%

Our email surveys come separately from Help Desk ticket surveys, so those aren’t included above. For those, we got a total of 190 responses, and only 3 rated their experience as Unsatisfactory!

1.6% / 98.4%

IT takes these statistics very seriously, and we’re looking forward to being able to share more at the end of the Spring semester! If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments below, @EmersonIT, or!

Read more on the IT Blog, the ITG Blog, and the IT Bits and Bytes Blog »

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