How?s Your E-mail Etiquette

In a fast moving global economy, e-mail offers you the convenience of being able to quickly get your message across to your colleagues or clients at any hour of the day or night. The Internet revolution has had the unintended effect of decreasing the use of oral communication and increasing the importance of text - particularly e-mails - as the primary means of business communication. Employees are no longer writing memos to each other; they are sending e-mails.

But are we taking e-mails as seriously as our other business correspondence? Remember, your correspondence says a lot about you, and E-mail etiquette (also called netiquette) not only makes for effective professional communication, but also helps you build a good professional image within your organisation and with clients.

Mind Your Manners

Be conversant with the fact that there are some people who are very sensitive to being addressed by their first names. When in doubt, use Mr., Ms., Sir, Madam or Dr. (if appropriate). When you are replying to an e-mail and the sender of the original message has used his or her first name only, then you could safely assume it's all right to use that person's first name as well.

Next, there are three words in the dictionary that are very important to netiquette. People may not notice these words when they're there, but if you forget to use them, you'll come across looking disrespectful and ungrateful. These very powerful words are "Please" and "Thank You".

Don't Use That Tone With Me

Tone is a difficult thing to explain. Remember when your parents would say "Don't use that tone of voice with me, young lady (or young man)?" Your feelings come across by the way you say something. It is easy to change your tone when you're speaking. When you're writing it's very hard to do so. Whenever you write an e-mail, you should read your message over several times before you hit send. Make sure that you come across as respectful, friendly, and approachable. And don't sound curt or demanding. Sometimes just rearranging your paragraphs will help.

If you're writing to someone you've communicated with before, you might want to begin by saying "I hope you are well." E-mail writers often use emoticons to convey a certain tone. For those of you who don't know what these are, emoticons are little faces made up by arranging parentheses, colons, and semi-colons. Use good judgement here. If you are writing to someone frequently and share an informal relationship, then emoticons are okay. If you're writing to a prospective client or your boss, stick to words only. Avoid writing your message using all uppercase letters. It looks like you're shouting.

And Your Point Would Be...?

When possible, don't ramble. Be concise and get to your point as quickly as you can. However, don't leave out necessary details. If providing a lot of background information will help the recipient answer your query, by all means, include it. You may even want to apologize for being so verbose at the beginning of the message.

Plz Don't Abbrvt.

Never ever use U instead of you, 2 instead of to or too, plz instead of please, and thanx instead of thanks. It's fine for personal e-mails. Business e-mails should be more formal. Of course, frequently used abbreviations such as Mr. and Ms., FYI (for your information), inc., and etc. are fine.

Spelling Counts... Grammar Too

Use your spell checker. That's what it's for. Don't rely entirely on the spell checker though. If you're using the wrong spelling for a particular use of a word, i.e. two vs. to vs. too, the spell checker won't pick it up. A minor typographical error in a lengthy e-mail will generally go unnoticed, but a series of typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors will indicate a lack of professionalism and has the potential to cost you business or maybe even your job.

Use A Descriptive Subject Line

Always use a subject line in your e-mails. Make sure the subject line is brief, but descriptive. Make an effort to keep your subject line to six or fewer words. The subject line is supposed to be brief and summarize the message, and not become the whole e-mail content. You can summarize the action item of e-mail in the subject line e.g., "Tues. meeting canceled."

Keep Check On Numbers

Be conservative about who you send your e-mails to. Only send it to those who are directly affected by the issue in question. Ask yourself, is this information useful to this person? Is this level of detail appropriate for this person, or should I send them a summary when everyone's input is gathered and we have come to a conclusion?

Send the e-mail "To" the person or people that you are asking for an answer or action, and be specific about what you are asking of whom. Send a courtesy copy (cc) to those who need to be aware of the request but are not asked to act upon it or respond to it. Double check that you have properly attached documents to avoid sending a second message.

Check messages frequently - at least three times a day. Immediately respond, delete, forward, or save to a folder as appropriate. The more you leave messages sitting in your Inbox, the bigger the chore to gain control again. It is also easy to lose track of an important action item, or message, if you do not keep it organised.

Just like any other type of written message, be aware that it could be forwarded to others or saved indefinitely. Be prudent in what you decide to write in an e-mail.

Include a signature of no more than four lines. Your signature should provide the recipient with a means to contact you other than e-mail, and should mention your designation, company name etc.

For internal communication, it is not necessary to always produce highly organised and precisely worded e-mails. However, etiquette is not totally abandoned in internal communication, particularly when it comes to professional courtesy.

Make A Good First Impression

Though e-mails are less intrusive than a phone call and faster than a letter, first impressions are as important here as any other business communication tool. An e-mail may be your introduction to someone you never met before like a prospective client or new boss or colleague or even a prospective employer. Take your time putting together a well-written message. Once you hit the send button you won't have another chance.

Rajat Rajwansh

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