Discover the do's and don'ts of today's most popular means of business communication - email. Demonstrating proper email etiquette will not only keep you out of hot water, it will also help you project an outstanding impression of yourself and your organization.
Avoid being personal or emotional in emails since you lose the benefit of facial expressions and tone of voice. Intent can be easily misconstrued and lead to confusion.
Best used as a way of sending cold data, charts, directions, and follow up information.
Captial – letters should only be used where it is grammatically correct to do so. Using all capitals does not mean that it is important, it is considered yelling.
Define – the subject and determine the recipients. The subject line is the punch line of your email and it should be concise and alluring. The “to” field should only include people that need to take action. The “cc” field is for the people that only need to be aware of the information.
Email Signature – keep it short, simple and professional. Include your name, company name, title within your company, live website link and contact information. It’s appropriate to include a tag line for branding, but refrain from using quotes. Ensure that the signature is not an attachment and use graphics or logos sparingly, if at all.
Forward - Be thoughtful and only pass on messages that you feel have special interest to your recipients. Protect others privacy and respect “scroll reluctance” by deleting previous recipients’ addresses or other extraneous information that precedes the message.
Grammar - write in full sentences. Use proper capitalization and grammar. Begin and end your email as you would a business letter, with a salutation at the beginning and a signature at the end. Avoid slang, shorthand, and rambling. Customize your email so that all documents are spell checked before they are sent. Single space between lines and double space between paragraphs. Use black font colour.
Honour – your audience’s interaction and frequency preferences. While it may be quicker to use email, some people prefer face-to-face interaction or telephone calls for certain matters. Many people receive hundreds of emails every day and may not appreciate receiving even the most well intentioned joke, inspirational message or even acknowledgment of information they have delivered to you.
Image – Your emails should support the image you want to communicate about yourself and your organization. Consider the impact of spelling, grammar, overuse of exclamation points, acronyms and emoticons.
Jokes - in the workplace do alleviate stress, but limit the number of jokes you send and make sure your humour could not be considered vulgar or target groups (e. g. , ethnicity, gender, religion, politics, age, etc. ). If you have friends outside of work who send you inappropriate humor to your workplace, ask them to send it to your home computer.
Know – your desired outcome. What do you want to achieve by sending the email? Make it clear to the recipient what is expected of them. A task or information request should not be buried in the body of the email. Use bullets or bold so the email can be quickly scanned and desired outcomes easily understood.
Legal - Emails can be considered legal documents. Disclaimers are quite commonly used by companies and placed below block signatures to decrease liability. Since laws vary by geography, it is wise to ask for legal advice when preparing your email's disclaimer.
Mammoth – emails should not be sent. Most people do not like scrolling through pages and pages of email. Keep your messages brief and succinct or use an alternative method of information delivery.
Notifications - do not ask a recipient to send you a notification that you have read his or her email unless you have both agreed to do so.
Only – send messages when you are calm. Any messages that may be contentious should be saved as a draft and revisited after a cool down period. If in doubt, have someone you trust proof read it. Don’t insert the address until the last possible moment to avoid the “accidental send”.
Privacy – assume you have none and that it is your obligation to protect others’. Many companies monitor the email habits of their employees, so do not be tempted to send and receive personal email at work. Emails can also be subpoenaed into court or used for any investigation that may or may not directly involve you. Use the “cc” function only when it is necessary for others to know who received the email, otherwise use the “bcc” feature to protect the privacy of others’ email addresses.
Quit – checking your email obsessively. Turn off your notification and dedicate two or three blocks of time during your day to check and deal with email.
Reply - don’t automatically use the “reply all” feature. Take a moment to consider who really needs the information.
Speedy – there is an expectation of an almost instant response to an email. If you are unable to respond within 24 hours, send an acknowledgment that the email was received and provide a time frame in which the recipient can expect a full response.
Thread – is an entire email that remains visible while people reply back and forth when discussing one or two particular topics. It is polite to keep a thread alive until your email conversation has reached a natural conclusion.
Undeliverables – give people the benefit of the doubt if they have not replied to your email. Delivery is not guaranteed. Your email may have been trapped in a spam filter or undeliverable due to a full mailbox, closed account or a misspelled address. If you are sending an important time sensitive email to an external address for the first time, follow up with a phone call and advise the recipient to check their spam filter if they have not received the email in their inbox.
Virus - never forward a virus warning until you have checked it through a hoax site or your IT department. Attachments are always suspect to email recipients who do not know you. If you need to send an email to someone who does not know you, take the time to send an email without the attachment first and ask permission to send an attachment.
Website - if you mention a website address, make sure it is a “live link” so recipients can double click and go there easily. Test the link before you send the email.
X – Use the delete feature as soon as you decide you no longer need to keep an email. Messages you wish to keep should be filed immediately. Keeping your inbox clean not only keeps you organized, it also prevents senders from receiving a “mailbox full” bounce-back message.
Yes – email is an easy, efficient and excellent means of communication. It is not, however, a substitute for other, more personal means of communication. It is only one of many resources to help support relationships.
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Aviva Shiff is the co-founder of Spark Training and Coaching Associates Inc. (SparkTac). SparkTaC http://sparktac.com/ works with organizations and individuals to discover and amplify their talent through revealing assessments, innovative training and inspirational coaching.
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