June 11th, 2011

15 Essential E-Mail Etiquette Tips

by Jacqueline Whitmore

E-mail is one of the most efficient ways of staying in touch with customers, coworkers and clients. It’s faster than sending a letter, less intrusive than a phone call, less hassle than a fax, and often more convenient for the recipient. Because of these benefits, it has become pervasive in our corporate culture. Here are 15 essential e-mail etiquette tips that can be found in my book, Business Class.

1. Use the subject line to inform. An e-mail’s importance is often determined by its subject line. Keep the subject line brief, specific, and relevant or else the receiver might accidentally delete or mistake your e-mail for spam or an unsolicited advertisement.

2. Treat e-mails like business letters. It’s better to be more formal than too casual when you want to make a good impression. Use a person’s surname until they respond by signing their e-mail with their first name. This generally indicates that they don’t mind being addressed more casually.

3. Don’t write in ALL CAPs. Using all uppercase letters is considered CYBER SHOUTING. As an alternative, use asterisks to emphasize key words. “Bob and I had a *wonderful* time at the company reception last night.”

4. Company e-mail is never private. If you wish to send someone confidential or time-sensitive information, use the phone or meet in person. E-mails can be duplicated, forwarded and printed so don’t send or say anything you wouldn’t want repeated or posted in your company newsletter.

5. Avoid mood mail. Never send an e-mail when you’re angry. Take time to cool down and re-read the e-mail before you send it to be sure it doesn’t contain anything you will regret later. Facial expression, vocal inflection or body language can’t be conveyed in an e-mail, so messages may be misconstrued as too harsh, too critical, or too casual.

6. Praise in person. A congratulatory e-mail doesn’t have the same impact like a personal thank you note, no matter how many people you copy on the message. Besides, most people are likely to cherish typed or handwritten notes versus an e-mail message.

7. Proof it before you send. It pays to check before you click. Before you hit the “send” button, check for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. Take an extra minute or two to proof read, or read your e-mail aloud to be sure that it says what you want it to say.

8. Respect other’s privacy. There will be times when you need to deliver an e-mail to a large group but don’t want to launch a massive distribution list by e-mailing everyone together. If the recipients are unacquainted and you don’t want to divulge all addresses to all of the recipients, use the “BCC” or blind carbon copy function. When BCC is used, the only other e-mail address that appears in the recipient’s mailbox is that of the sender.

9. Be cautious about using the “reply all” feature. If you receive an e-mail that was sent to a multitude of people, including yourself, reply only to those who require a response. Hit “reply all” only if it is crucial that every person on the distribution list see your response. In many cases, the sender is the only person who requires a response.

10. Don’t be a pest. If you don’t receive a response after sending an e-mail, either send a different e-mail explaining why you are following up, or pick up the phone if you need a prompt answer. Sending the same e-mail over and over again may make you appear too pushy or impatient. It’s easy to assume that your message was ignored or deleted by the receiver in some cases; but most companies have anti-spam filters that may accidentally block your e-mail.

11. Respond in a timely manner. If someone e-mails you a question and you don’t have an immediate answer, it is a courteous gesture to e-mail the sender to explain that you are researching their request and will get back to them within a certain time frame once you have the information. Otherwise, the person who e-mailed you may think their message never reached your inbox or that they are being ignored.

12. Send attachments only with permission. Many companies have policies discouraging employees from opening attachments from unknown sources. Before sending multiple attachments or photographs, find out if the receiver wants to receive them separately or collectively in one e-mail. Some people may choose to receive them separately so it doesn’t slow down their incoming e-mail messages.

13. Think twice before sending humorous messages. A funny e-mail may seem innocent to you but may be insulting to someone else. E-mail messages that are hostile, harassing, or carry discriminatory overtones are permanent and may be forwarded to others without your knowledge. Play it safe and don’t send anything you wouldn’t want posted in your company’s newsletter.

14. Less is more. For short e-mail, you can use the subject line only: “Can we meet this afternoon to go over budgets?” then finish the sentence with (EOM), the acronym for “end of message.” The recipient won’t need to open the message to respond. Use acronyms only when your recipients know their meaning.

15. Mark your message “urgent” in other ways. As an alternative to the exclamation point, use keywords at the beginning of the subject line to help recipients filter and sort time-sensitive e-mail quickly. For example, “Urgent” could be the code for “read immediately” while “FYI” could mean no response required.

If you have an e-mail pet peeve or etiquette tip to share, please post a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

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