Email Etiquette

February 21, 2013
The age of the internet has taken communication to a whole new level. Phone calls and snail mail have been replaced by emails and texts; giving way to a mode of communication that’s instantly gratifying, yet often taken for granted and abused. Sounding more like a relationship that’s gone bad, use of today’s technology has had major impact on writing and communication skills across the board and throughout the world.

Grammar, spelling, and punctuation have taken a vacation from traditional protocol, while newer, more relaxed forms of communication infiltrate cyberspace in defiance of all the rules we once lived by. And if all that’s not enough to make Mr. Webster rollover in his grave, fingers are “click” happy, sending messages and emails without much thought or good judgment to anyone and everyone, regardless of their content. It sure seems like communication has taken on a devil-may-care attitude, but the truth is many experts agree that typical email behavior has the potential of sabotaging our lives, particularly in the professional arena, where professional etiquette at the keyboard is expected and required.

It’s understandable why we’ve become lax and take so many shortcuts when emailing. The mere number of communications per day alone is enough to make anyone ignore the rules of proper writing just to keep pace. Still, there’s a time and place for individual creativity and expression, and knowing when and where to use it can make all the difference between getting the results you desire and not. Casual and personal emails that reflect a fun-loving personality are acceptable, but when it comes to rolling with the big boys, it’s crucial to know how to create the perfect email. In a perfect world, we would make our school teachers proud everytime we sit behind a keyboard, but in this modern techno world, I’ll stay real and urge you to use proper email etiquette at least when it counts the most… because so much depends on it.

Here’s a list of tips to perfect email etiquette:

Ultimately, the goal is to appear intelligent regardless of whom you’re emailing.

However, we all understand why formalities are dropped between close friends and family, but when it comes to all others, consider upping your game. It’s just another aspect of image building that should be taken seriously because emailing, like the spoken word, reflects who we are. BTW, it’s perfectly fine to follow etiquette rules in casual emails, too, so go for it… if you’re so inclined.

Know your audience.

Emails are not a “one size fits all” form of communication. This, perhaps, may just be the most important thing to know regarding email etiquette. Personal email styles vastly differ from professional and business email styles. Recognize the difference, learn the rules, and apply them when necessary.

Don’t mix corporate and personal email accounts.

As tempting as it is to send personal emails from work, don’t do it! Everything sent through a work email account belongs to the company, which means they have access to it. Even if there’s nothing improper in the emails, it’s inappropriate to use corporate email for personal messages. It can get you fired, so play it safe by not playing.

No private emails.

It’s safest not to email someone about a private matter. It happens all the time, and so does the nightmare of private emails going public. Think before you click – a phone call or face-to-face might be best. However, if email is the vehicle, be certain to keep it private if it’s meant to be. Hopefully, the recipient will, also.

Keep emails short.

Emails are meant to be quick exchanges. Writing a novel could be the fastest way to get your email deleted and not read in today’s fast-paced world. Not that lengthy emails are against the rules – they just often go unread; much the way long phone messages aren’t listened to. Use discretion and don’t hesitate to call instead of emailing, especially if there’s a lot of information that needs to be explained or discussed.

Confidential information needs to stay that way.

Discussing important information needs to be done with discretion, since there’s no guarantee emails won’t get into the wrong hands. Between hackers and transmitting to the incorrect person (come on, we’ve all done it), sensitive information, like social security numbers, tax information, bank account numbers, etc., should not be emailed.

Keep it upbeat.

Avoid handling negative business in emails. Delivering bad news, saying something ugly about a coworker or boss, reprimanding or firing an employee, and even breaking up with someone should never be done in an email. As tempting as it is to just hit “send”, show the proper respect for others by dealing with negative issues in person or via phone.

Subject lines should be clear and direct.

In order to avoid being deleted or grouped with spam emails, subject lines should be brief and descriptive of the email’s content: Party Invitation, Lunch Today, Business Meeting Agenda, etc. Also, the use of all caps, all lower case, exclamation points, and URLs in the subject line should be avoided, since they put emails at risk of being mistaken for spam, also. Pay attention and change the subject line content once the subject of a chain email changes, since subject lines should match email content. “No Reply Necessary” or “No Reply Needed” listed in the subject line is courteous and appreciated when a reply is not expected. And, last but not least, proof read the subject line for mistakes.

Use real words.

Chat acronyms are fun and save time, but if you’re looking to impress your boss, a future boss, or anyone else in the professional arena, use your words, gentlemen. Granted, email has given way to a new language, and although effectively using online jargon is admirable, it’s best saved for friends, since a business associate may not think URGr8. And even though emoticons can be very helpful in getting emotional tone across in emails, no shorthand, emoticons, abbreviations, or slang should be a part of any professional email. THX

Don’t be too brief.

It’s easy to misinterpret “how” someone is saying something in an email because typed words are void of emotion. Sure, emoticons help deliver our feelings, but it’s best to rely on words to express feelings and thoughts in emails. Short, abrupt sentences and one-liners can be very misleading, leaving the receiver unsure of what you “mean”. Explaining yourself more clearly helps avoid confusion and problems.

Limit exclamation points.

Exclamation points are a great way to express excitement, happiness, and surprise! The use of multiple !!!!!!!!! is fine as long as the email’s a casual one. However, if an exclamation point has a place in a business email, it needs to stand alone, in order to look professional. No more than one exclamation point, please!!!

Clean it up.

No one, including friends, appreciates dealing with email’s additional baggage. We all get them – chain emails with scores of unprotected email addresses, and others with annoying carets (>>>) before and after every sentence. Please stop the madness by cleaning up or deleting what you can before you pass it on.

Use Bcc.

This “blind-copy” option protects email recipients. Sending emails with multiple email addresses in the address bar exposes everyone’s address and violates their privacy. Choose one address to send the email to and blind-copy all others. For even more privacy, address the email to yourself, and use the Bcc for everyone else.

Resist the “Reply All”.

It’s fine to use if everyone on the list needs to read your response, but if not, reply to only those who should see it. It can be dangerous!

Send large attachment alerts.

Since large attachments can clog an inbox and cause other emails to bounce, notify the receiver in advance and get permission to send any attachment 500KB and larger before sending.

Don’t overuse the high priority option.

Like crying wolf, no one will believe you if this feature is over used.

Use a signature.

People should be able to access your contact information easily and quickly, which can be done by including a phone number and/or any social media info (you want to disclose) along with your signature.

Proofread emails.

Incorrect spelling and punctuation are the biggest complaint many people, particularly professionals, have with emails. Take an extra minute to review and correct mistakes in all emails, since no one enjoys dealing with them. Typing at the speed of light causes countless typos, so proofread before you click. It’s well worth the time and energy.

Turn around time.

Most of us are like Pavlov’s Dog when it comes to emails. As soon as we get one, we’re conditioned to reply as quickly as possible. Unless you’re on call, experts claim email response time can be up to 48 hours, so take your time.

Every email we send is a reflection of ourselves that either adds to or detracts from our reputation. Among friends, most anything goes, but when our reputation is on the line, it’s essential that we step up and behave professionally. Often, potential employers and other business professionals read our emails before meeting us in person. Assumptions are made based on email content and style, so if you don’t want to appear disorganized and unprofessional, don’t allow your emails to be. Much like knowing what to wear when, knowing how and when to utilize email etiquette is priceless. 😉

by Aaron Marino

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