E-mail Etiquette: E-mail Protocol – 12 Simple Rules to Stay
By Joy Fisher-Sykes
Electronic mail is a quick, easy, and convenient way to instantly
link up with people around the globe. To ensure our messages don’t confuse or
alienate others, it’s important to practice basic e-mail etiquette. Here are
twelve simple e-mail rules to keep you connected and make sure every communiqué
is clear, polished, and professional.
Rule #1 – Be
Follow the KISS rule (keep it short and sweet). Get to the point in a clear
manner. Keep paragraphs short - three or four sentences at most. If you find
you need to send an e-mail that is longer than a few short paragraphs, revise
the message or consider picking up the phone or paying a personal visit instead.
Rule #2 – Watch
any e-mail, check your message. Ask yourself, “What is my purpose for
sending this e-mail?” Anger, enthusiasm, and anxiousness are all emotions
that can trigger an itch only an immediate heated reply can scratch. Always
consciously choose your words and be sure every communiqué accurately and
clearly conveys your message. Be careful about what you say and how you say it
because your words can come back to haunt you. Words, especially the written
word, can live and be remembered forever. Don’t say something in the heat of
the moment that you can’t take back.
Rule #3 – Follow
Every correspondence you send is a reflection of you and your organization.
Therefore, at a minimum, each e-mail needs to have these elements – a greeting,
a skipped line before and after each paragraph, a closing or call for action,
and a signature (which identifies you and provides alternate ways to contact
Rule #4 – Spell
While spell check can accurately check for
misspellings, it won’t recognize all errors. Before you hit the send button,
check every e-mail for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. An e-mail filled
with multiple errors is not only difficult to read and understand; it tests the
patience of the recipient, who may decide your message has no value and simply
is not worth reading.
Rule #5 – Send
messages to your outbox first. Disable
the “auto send” feature in your e-mail software and, instead, have messages sent
to the “outbox” first. This gives you a second chance to review your e-mail for
content and intent. If your e-mail is a reply, you will now be able to reread
the original message to be sure you didn’t misunderstand the message. When in
doubt, seek clarification before responding.
As a rule, always wait at least 24 hours before responding to a
heated e-mail. This is often enough time to cool off and think clearly. Reread
the message and ask yourself if you misinterpreted the e-mail. If so, at least
now you can hit “delete” instead of “send.” Remember to always communicate with
integrity and respect.
Rule #6 – Avoid
writing in all caps.
Text written in
all caps is hard on the eyes and is difficult to read. More importantly, all
caps in an e-mail SCREAMS at the reader. Better to write in upper and lower
case. If you need to draw attention to a word, consider using bold or italics
for the emphasis.
Rule #7 – Reply
to all sparingly. When you respond to a mass e-mail (a message sent to multiple
recipients), determine whether everyone listed needs to receive your reply. If
a reply to the sender only is sufficient and appropriate, hit the “reply” vs.
the “reply to all” button to cut down on multiple and unnecessary mail.
Rule #8 – Stay
Just like voice mail, be sure to keep your auto-reply message up-to-date. An
outdated auto-reply is as bad as dated voice mail – information that serves no
Rule #9– Office
e-mail is never personal.
Unless you own
the company, any e-mail sent via your office computer is the property of the
employer and is subject to their purview. There is no such thing as personal
e-mail at work. Be aware and watch what you say because every message
represents you and the organization.
Rule #10 – Stay
organized. Attempting to save every e-mail creates clutter. Get in the
habit of saving only necessary e-mails and discarding the rest. Be sure to
delete messages from your inbox, deleted, and sent message boxes. This will cut
down on the clutter and free up much needed computer space. Review periodically
so you don’t feel overwhelmed at the sight of months’ or years’ worth of
messages. If your box is full right now, commit to reviewing at least 15
messages from each box daily until you are all caught up. Also, be sure to
regularly back up all mail boxes, just in case.
Rule #11 – Answer
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent an e-mail requesting specific
information only to receive a reply with half, if any, of my questions
answered. This now requires sending a second message to get the necessary
answers. When responding to an e-mail with multiple questions, type your
response right next to the questions in a different color font than the original
message. This clearly shows your reply and enables the reader to easily match
the response to a question and ensures you have answered all of the sender’s
Rule #12 – Be
With the proliferation of text messaging, PDAs, and Blackberrys, many people
send an e-mail and expect an on the spot response within moments of a message
being sent. It’s unreasonable to expect others to drop everything to instantly
cater to your every whim. When sending e-mail, be patient and allow a
reasonable amount of time to pass before you expect a reply.
Electronic mail can open up doors to you from around the world.
Apply these twelve simple e-mail rules and your messages will be clear, concise,
and always connected.
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