The UCLA Internet Report 2001 reveals that in the US 87.9 % use email out of the 72.3 % of Americans who use Internet. This survey also shows that approximately 90 % of those who use Internet at work use it primarily to access business email.
Email is being used not only for personal but increasingly for business communications as well. Just as there are fine rules to be followed while writing a business letter, similarly there is certain etiquette that needs to be remembered while composing an email message. Check out the dos and don'ts with email etiquette.
Why email etiquette?
Efficiency is the essence of modern communication. A poorly worded email will simply render the message ineffective. It can be observed that all emails are not to the point. While some writers could be too terse and communicate too little too quickly, there are others who wander at random never understanding that this is instant messaging and being more specific helps the information dissemination faster.
Some emails pose glaring misspellings and grammatical errors. These tend to annoy the receiver who may gradually lose interest in the content as well. In business communications, a company's image is bound to grow through proper and formal email messaging. A professional impression can be created only by proper usage of email language.
People get dozens of emails every day and it is natural for them to focus only on those messages that are well thought out and clearly respect their time and attention. Emails sent carelessly do not invite any kind of careful responses. Hence it becomes imperative that all email users are aware of some basic email etiquette, sometimes referred to as netiquette.
Subject line and message body
- A meaningful 'subject line' will convey that this message is important and also give the recipient an idea of what the mail is about. The subject should be as short as possible.
- Overly long subject lines tend to irritate and too short a subject line will mislead the recipient.
- Keep emails as short as possible. Brevity is the soul of wit. An email made of concise and precise sentences will alone be read and the one that runs around in circles will make the recipient read less. Business emails necessarily have to be succinct.
- It is better to talk about one subject per email message only. Too many subjects packed in one email message will only make things totally confused.
- While replying to an original message, it is enough if the absolutely necessary word, sentence or at times paragraph is quoted. It is generally not necessary to include the greeting, good bye and signature of the original email unless specific reference is being made to it.
Language and tone essentials
- Use of correct spelling and proper grammar is vital to every email be it business or personal. There is a 'spell checker' provided to enable the sender use the dictionary for spelling errors.
- Emails could be written in conversational tone but basic rules of grammar need to be maintained.
- Professional and business communications should steer clear of abbreviations like 'LOL' (laugh out loud) and emoticons. It would be improper to use a cute or a suggestive email address for business communications.
- It is important to watch the tone of the written message while messaging. Instead of sounding curt or demanding, one could come across as friendly, respectful and approachable as need be.
- One has to address people one does not know as Mr., Mrs., or Dr. and so on. Addressing someone in first name can be done only if they imply it is agreeable with them.
Email attachments and forwards
- Attachments help to share documents, images, songs and a host of other things along with email messages.
- Nobody likes to wait for a long download as this costs not only time but also money for the recipient. Such wastage of network resources can be prevented by compressing files before sending them via email. There are several compression utilities available for this purpose. In fact word processor documents can be compressed to 10% or less of their original size.
- Chain letters referred to as 'hoaxes' tell interesting and funny and scary stories of computer viruses, free offers, incredible riches, soliciting for charitable causes and much more. No hoax is true. This is the simple reason why such hoaxes such not be forwarded unless the story is authentic. Hoaxes tend to irritate the recipient and if passed on cause more irritation.
Email structure, format and layout guide
The structure, format and layout pattern of an email becomes very important especially because reading from a screen is more difficult than reading from paper.
- While making points, each point need to be numbered or marked as separate to keep the over view.
- It is necessary to take care with rich text and HTML messages and the sender might only receive it as plain text mails. Most email users include Microsoft Outlook and are able to receive the HTML and rich text messages.
- Use bold face in plain text email messages.
- Asterisks can be used to mark the beginning and end of the passage that should be put in bold face.
- Plain text emails could also be underlined or appear in italics.
- If the entire email message were to appear in capital letters, then it is loud and gives a sense of 'shouting' to the recipient. Use capital letters sparingly in emails.
- Italics are preferred way of highlighting the text in many respects in emails. While italics can be used for emphasis, the text can still be read fluently. But refrain from using italics in long passages as this would render it difficult to read.
- An email message packed with text and lacking line breaks is very difficult to read and comprehend. Text using plenty of white space is much easier on the eye.
- An email address typed with all upper case, all lower case or mixed case, it will arrive in either case. But there is no guarantee for this behavior. Email addresses also react sensitively to case. If an email is sent with recipient address misspelt, then it will return as delivery failure. Instead it is better to type the address the same way the recipient wrote instead of tying a different spelling or case.
- Date misinterpretations should absolutely be avoided in emails. It is better to spell out the month to avoid confusion about dates in the message as every country has it own adaptation of date and month styles. For example, it is better to write June 10, 10 June or JUN 10 instead of 10/6 or 6/10.
- Most of the mailboxes are sorted by date. It is imperative to set the system's clock to the accurate time via the Net periodically. Otherwise, new messages may appear in-between old ones and cause confusion.
- An email should use the automatic word wrapping feature to something between 65 to 75 characters. This will make the message look good in every email program on any computer.
Email etiquette considerations
- Email users have to extremely careful about punctuation around URLs. URLs are sent by simply typing them unless sent in a HTML format where one can insert a link.
- The standard email signature delimiter can be used. These days almost everybody appends their name and sometimes a witty quote or some ASCII art to their email message.
- It is always advised to check the 'to' line when you compose a reply message. This is because sometimes the message intended for one special recipient gets an audience of many. This embarrassment can be saved if the 'to' line is addressed to the intended audience only.
- Above all, it is important to understand that customers send email because they want to receive a quick response. That is why they choose the email to fax or a letter. It is preferable to reply each email within 24 hours. If the email is complicated or requires time for reply, then send a email back saying that you have received the email and will get back soon. This will put the sender at ease.
Email is a unique medium. It is instant, easy and accessible. The informal character of an email makes it feel like casual conversation. Email leaves a permanent record and what is being said if need be can be used against you. Beware and think of the potential consequences before sending an email.
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