Guide to E-mail Etiquette

Do you or someone you work with need suggestions on improving E-mail communication? Whether sending or receiving, here’s some handy guidelines to keep in mind.

When replying…

Read the message you received before you reply. If you just skim read and then hastily reply, you likely will not grasp what was really said.  This will lead to frustration and ultimately lost time.

Answer promptly. E-mail should be replied to as soon as possible, but at maximum within one business day. If you cannot properly respond right away, send a brief E-mail saying that you have received the message and will respond at a designated time.

Reply vs. Reply All. If the original message was sent to multiple recipients, use “Reply” to reply only to those persons for whom your message is pertinent.

Get clarification. If someone sends you an E-mail that surprises or upsets you, make sure you haven’t misunderstood before replying. Emotions are often not conveyed clearly via E-mail. Instead of retaliating angrily, first respond by quoting the portion of text that you are unsure of and ask the sender to clarify.

Leave the “strings” attached. When you hit the “Reply” button, do not delete the original message (or the conversation “string”) from the message so that the recipient knows to which topic you are responding. If the original message is exceptionally long or touches on several topics, clearly reiterate the point of your response. Rather than just hitting Reply and typing “OK”, it is a good practice to reiterate the specific topic to which you are referring. For example, saying “Yes. Please proceed with printing 200 copies,” leaves no room for doubt.

When writing, consider…

Don’t write E-mail when you are angry or short on time. While E-mail seems to be bad at communicating some emotions, such as humor, it somehow seems to always transmit anger — even when you don’t intend it to come through. E-mail is typically short and expressionless, which can be received as curt, disinterested or even insulting. Make a real effort to come across extra pleasant when writing. If you are genuinely upset, wait until you can respond calmly.

Privacy doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as a private E-mail. An E-mail is like a postcard: there are many people that could read it along the way. Also keep in mind that it takes the recipient just one click to forward the message to anyone or post your text to a blog or message board. So don’t discuss confidential topics or sensitive information.

WATCH YOUR CAPS. Avoid the use of all CAPITAL LETTERS because in Internet terms this is considered “shouting” and also causes readability issues.

Too much punctuation!!! If something is important, reflect the importance of your message in the text, not the punctuation. Otherwise you could imply the wrong emotion. Get it???

Before you click “Send”…

Read through the E-mail you have written before you send it. With the recipient in mind, take a moment to review what you have typed. You may find areas where you can be more effective in expressing yourself with the goal of avoiding misunderstandings.

Ensure you’ve answered all questions. Then think ahead. Make sure a follow-up or reply E-mail fully addresses all questions asked of you. Also, try to think ahead to additional information that the person may naturally request next and proactively include it in your response. Being thoughtful and thorough will create a positive experience for the recipient.

Proofread. There is a difference between typos and poor writing. Poor writing may be improved upon with practice. But regardless of personal ability, typos will always stay typos until you actively eliminate them.

Attachments. Ask first before sending large attachments, unless the recipient has specifically requested them from you.

High Importance (!) Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? If you overuse the High Priority option, it will reduce its value for when you really need it. Likewise, using the words “Urgent” or “Important” in a subject line or message when it really isn’t will eventually exhaust your entitlement to receive people’s attention.

What do you find especially irritating when someone sends you an E-mail? How could that be remedied or improved?  Share your thoughts with a comment below.

In a future post, we will address 5 E-mail Do’s and Do Not’s, so be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed.

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