Time and time again, in work places, educational institutions and other professional environments, we see emails being sent, re-sent, forwarded, replied to all–when they were not supposed to be, in all sorts of colors, fonts, texts and formats, but I want to emphasize that although my emails are not always perfect and I make an effort to provide the best writing; as a reflection of my self-expression, I think we all can use an email etiquette refresher.
Why do we email?
Let’s face it, emails have changed the way we communicate. As they say, time is of the essence and emails save us time. Remember the days of “snail mail?” Also known as, regular mail–what’s that nowadays? No one really writes a letter anymore (although I still believe in its art form) but in our global and technologically advanced world, emails are efficient, inexpensive, fast and really eliminates a lot of the frustration of waiting for a phone call from a nice game of phone tag–the art of leaving messages, but never truly connecting.
Connection is what we all strive for in this age of emails, texts, apps, skype and other cutting-edge technologies that allow us to instantly and constantly interact with each other.
Although personal emails are basically considered an informal way of communicating, business emails like in DoMyWriting do have a style, format, rules and guidelines that should be applied:
- Write formally if making initial contact with someone within or outside your organization. Once the relationship is more established and friendly, then future email exchanges can become more informal.
- Messages to higher-level officials should always be formal unless there is an existing relationship that allows a less formal style.
- Even if certain circumstances warrant a more casual email format, this does not mean that you ignore the basic rules for grammar, usage, and style.
- Keep in mind that email messages are owned by the business or organization and can one day be cited as part of a legal action.
In summary, writing emails, individually, on your own behalf, has less rules and can be applied to casually, but when writing on behalf of an organization, all rules of business communications must apply.
The way we distribute emails is also very important in remaining professional and being aware of the recipients is also a rule that must be followed:
- Distributing messages to members who are in the same company or organization depends on whether the recipients all know one another. If that is the case, exposing each person’s email address to others is acceptable.
- Enter the names of recipients in which the email is primarily intended to and, or, you want a response from, in the To box.
- Enter the names of recipients of those who have a real need to see this message in the Cc box. And please, do not copy everyone on your mailing list!
- In the Bcc box, enter the names of recipients that are to receive a blind copy or a copy in which the recipients in the To and Cc box are not aware of. This is generally not a good policy to do within members of your organization. However, the function does exist and should be used with caution; as it is intended to protect privacy.
Components of the subject line
- Concise title: Describes the message, which allows the reader to scan quickly the importance of the message and whether it requires prompt action.
- Attract special attention: Insert exclamation points, but use it sparingly and only when the message is of urgency and calls for immediate action. This prevents your reader from thinking you are exaggerating the urgency of your email. Don’t cry wolf!
- Some programs allow you to label the message urgent or very high to very low.
To greet or not to greet?
The salutation or greeting of an email message depends on the following:
- Message is going to people within the organization.
- Message consists of an informal announcement about a change in workplace procedure or protocol.
- Message to someone you know should be followed by a comma rather than a colon. For example: Mark, Dear Mark, Good morning, Mark, Hello, Mark or Hi, Mark
- You can insert the person’s name instead of a salutation in the opening of the message as an alternative. For example: You’re correct, Mark. I was wrong.
- When writing to someone you do not know or have a formal relationship with, then a formal salutation is warranted and followed with a colon.
Factors to keep in mind
Emails are supposed to make our lives easier and more organized. In order to avoid frustrating people with emails, let’s keep the following main factors of Netiquette, or email behaviors and rules, in mind:
- Keep the message short and ideally to one screen!
- Organize sentences in short, single-spaced sections for reader ease and understanding.
- Do NOT indent paragraphs. Remember, this is an electronic memo.
- Leave one blank line between paragraphs.
- Single topic focus. Stick to the subject line. One email, one message!
- If more than one topic is mandatory, then use headings as clear labels.
- Use separate paragraphs for specific questions and answers.
- Make sure your tone is appropriate.
- Background information should be concisely organized in the message.
- Do not send messages when you are in an angry mood.
- Do not use emails to complain, criticize, comment or assess colleagues negatively. This is considered highly inappropriate.
- Do not place confidential information in an email if you do not want anyone, other than the intended person, to read it.
- DO NOT TYPE YOUR MESSAGES IN ALL CAPS or in lowercase. Either approach is unprofessional and harder to read.
Other email customs
In responding to messages, it is customary to type the response in the space above the sender’s original message, but it is acceptable to follow the message as well. It is also acceptable to change the font or color to differentiate your response from the sender’s.
Depending on the nature of the email format and whether there are several matters that need to be answered it is also acceptable to answer the questions right next to it. You can even highlight your answers in order to make it stand out to the sender.
Many email users also like to insert smileys, for example, ;), in their messages, to show their emotions or feelings about what they are writing, but smileys are customarily acceptable in personal emails, but not usually appropriate in business messages. Consult your organizations email policy guidelines for further clarification.
The moral is?
Email etiquette is not meant to be rigid. It only encourages an environment of professionalism, courtesy, positive attitude and thoughtfulness.
It rallies people to be more considerate and tolerant of the people you write to. It advocates privacy by avoiding a barrage of unnecessary and inappropriate messages that they do not need to read.
It is not only a matter of good manners, but it can also create personal and business messages that are conducive to achieving the results you really want.