Email Etiquette – More Than Just Manners

When it comes to interpersonal communication, we are all aware of the significance of “people skills” – they help us achieve the desired outcomes. Our communication determines how others perceive us: as knowledgeable or ignorant, courteous or impolite, mature or immature. Typically, this occurs during face-to-face or telephone conversations in which we have some influence over the impression we make on others.

When it comes to netiquette (Network Etiquette), it is more difficult to control how others perceive us, despite the fact that it is more crucial. Why? Because what you write and how you use email can influence whether or not your email is delivered, read, or responded to – and what kind of response you receive! Additionally, there are numerous “technology traps” into which it is easy to fall. Have you ever witnessed someone send an angry or sensitive response to a large group of recipients by accident via the “Reply All” button?

And before you say, “I already know” and stop reading this article, realize that everyone could benefit from a few simple reminders on the proper use of email, from both a personal and a business perspective. If you conduct business on the Internet and use email to communicate with your customers, you must read this article!

You may already be familiar with many of these tips, but even the most seasoned user will find a few rules they were unaware of or have developed a habit of breaking.

Consider, write, and then reconsider.

Email is a static, one-way channel; unlike live communication, there is no way to receive immediate feedback (from facial expressions or voice responses) to determine if we are effective or even understood. Consider carefully before pressing the send button. Exists ANY possibility that the recipient could misunderstand what you intend for them to comprehend? Are your thoughts abrupt or angry sounding? Could this email affect your reputation inadvertently? The hastily written text may lack the feelings and the intended emotion. You may be grinning as you type, but your message may come across as sarcastic or cruel. Remember that the person on the other end of the line is not just a computer.

Use a meaningful subject line.

This is the first thing your reader will see, so utilize the space to help them comprehend the email’s content before they even open it. Using the same rule as above, instead of leaving the subject field blank, enter a subject that corresponds to the message you’re sending. Without a subject line, your message will likely be viewed as spam; not everyone will recognize who you are based on your email address alone. Many internet service providers (ISPs) filter out email that appears suspicious, and an empty subject line is a major red flag. Also, avoid generic phrases such as “Hello” or “Check This Out” to prevent spam or virus software from deleting your message!

The beginning and the conclusion.

Always include a greeting, even if it is brief. Whatever works best for the intended recipient and best reflects your personality, begin your message with “Hello” or “Hello” or “Dear.” Consider: when you call someone on the telephone, do you not say “Hello” before stating your purpose? Email messages should not differ in any way. At a minimum, address the email to the person.

Don’t forget the end of your message too! Always sign your messages with your name, and say “Thank You”, or “Sincerely”, or something else appropriate. You can even configure your email program to include a signature that displays your information at the bottom of every email you send. For directions, use your email programs help file and do a search for signature.

Protect the identity of your recipient by using “To:,” “CC:,” and “BC:” correctly.

Several simple etiquette guidelines govern the use of email address fields.

If you are sending an email to a single person or email address, enter it in the “To:” field. This individual should be responsible for sending you a response.

When your email is being sent to multiple recipients and they all need to know who else is receiving it, include all of their email addresses in the “CC:” field.

Put all the recipients’ email addresses in the “BCC:” field when sending an email to multiple recipients who have no reason to know the other recipients’ names and email addresses.

(Some email software requires the inclusion of at least one address in the “To:” field. If required, include your own email address in the “To:” field.)

By default, the BCC field is not accessible in all email clients. If you cannot locate the Bcc field in your program’s interface, consult the program’s documentation for instructions.

Provide memory with assistance.

When replying to emails, include a copy of the prior notes you’ve exchanged with the recipient on the subject. I may receive 50 emails per day that require a response, and it is not always possible for me to recall every ‘conversation’ with every individual. Please don’t force your reader to search through their “sent items” folder or “recycle bin” to refresh their memory!

Use ‘Read Receipt’ with caution.

In certain circumstances, it is essential for both parties to be aware that a message was received. However, you should not request a read receipt for every single message you send during normal daily activities. It is annoying for the recipient to have to click that box each time they receive your email. And this constitutes an invasion of privacy. Remember that just because they have received it does not necessarily mean that they have read it, so receiving a read receipt does not prove anything other than that the message was received. And for daily communications, is this truly required?

URGENT!

The child that cried wolf. Do not send all of your messages with the URGENT or HIGH PRIORITY labels. If your recipients continue to receive messages marked with a red exclamation point, it will eventually lose its effectiveness, unless you want to emphasize how important YOU think you are. Reserve these messages for those of the highest priority!

Avoid using unique formatting.

Do not include colored email backgrounds, colored fonts, special fonts, images, or other “pretty” formatting in your everyday messages. Maintain cleanliness; this makes it easier for the recipient to read and respond. Since not everyone has their email configured to receive HTML emails, it’s best to send messages in plain text to ensure that everyone can view them. You’d be surprised at how poorly your email may appear on a mobile device or an older computer. By keeping your emails clean, the recipient will be able to load them much faster!

Do not YELL!

If you type in all capital letters, your reader will see this as yelling, or they will think that you were just too lazy to use proper text formatting. It is also difficult on the eyes; did you know that it takes longer to read something written in all capital letters than it does something properly formatted?

Proof, spell-check, and use proper formatting.

Your poor writing skills directly reflect on you! And the reader will never forget the author of an unintelligible message. Spell checking will catch the majority of misspelled words, but you should always proofread your email in case you misspelled a word (that was spelled correctly). Month and moth, as well as where and were, appear correct to a spell-checking program. Use correct punctuation, capitalization, and formatting. When the subject changes, or if the paragraph becomes too long, break it up. Avoid excessive formatting (too much bold, too many exclamation points and question marks, etc.) Anything in excess will make your message difficult to read. You want to make your message easily readable, as well as understandable. Proofread it to ensure it make sense, and never assume the reader knows what you mean, always spell it out for them. The time it takes to proof and spell check is minimal compared to the lasting impression you will make if you don’t take the time.

Take the time to send a reply.

Even when someone emails you something that doesn’t need a direct response, follow up with them in a timely manner just to let them know you received their message. It’s amazing how often people will ask for advice, and not even reply with a short “Thank you” when they receive their answer. A simple message telling the sender is sufficient. And this lets them know you did receive it, that it didn’t just get stuck in cyberspace somewhere.

If they didn’t request it, don’t send it!

No matter what you think may be acceptable, you cannot email someone about your product/service without their permission. Unless they request that you send them an email, or you have previously done business with them, then it is illegal to send them an email, period. Any recipient can easily forward your email to their ISP and report you for sending unsolicited email messages (SPAM).

This report would result in the immediate removal of all your websites/email address from most servers. You would then join a list of “prohibited senders” meaning that servers would not allow any messages attached to your domain name to be received by their customers – the people you are sending your messages to.

You might be thinking, “but I get emails every day about products/services that I didn’t request information about.” Sending unsolicited email messages (SPAM), is kind of like speeding. Lot’s of people do it, but it is against the law, and no matter how long you may get away with it, you are bound to get caught!

Compress, Compress, Compress!

If you are sending an email with several large attachments, it is often better to send them in a few separate emails, so that you don’t send a document that is too large to even open. Or, you can try compressing your messages into a zipped file. It doesn’t reduce the size of images or pictures very much, but it works great for text, spreadsheet and program files. This is very easy to do, and will make your file size much smaller, and make the recipient much happier. Check out www.winzip.com (for those on pc).

Hoaxes as helpful hints.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do not forward everything that gets sent to you. We’ve all seen them – the chain-letter emails that promise if you forward to x number of people you’ll get paid, or you’ll win something, or you will be lucky forever. It’s all a hoax, a scam, and the only result is huge numbers of email transmissions that slow down servers all across the country. If you receive one of these emails from a friend, reply to them (in a very nice way) and explain to them why this isn’t true, or ask them to stop forwarding them to you.

Virus, or virus advice?

Many viruses are spread by email masquerading as warnings about – a virus! If someone forwards you a virus warning, which usually contains instructions for removing a virus from your computer… check google.com for that virus BEFORE doing anything. Chances are, it’s also a hoax, and if you do remove that “bad file” from your computer, you’re actually removing a necessary component crucial to your system!

Wow, that was a lot of information to take in at one time, but I congratulate you for sticking it out and reading the entire article. Please share it with your family, friends and colleagues.

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