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As modern electronics have taken us in to an age of technology, many of the everyday aspects of communication have changed. Rather than depending upon pen and paper or even telephone as a means of communication, most people now depend upon e-mail. It is crucial to know how to compose an e-mail while maintaining the appropriate rules of etiquette in a variety of situations.
The Statistics on Email Use
According to a study by The Radicati Group, in 2013 more than 196 billion emails are sent every day. This number equates to around 136 million email messages sent every minute and more than 71.5 trillion emails sent every year. It is important to note that not all of these emails are legitimate forms of communication since some contain viruses and some are “SPAM” but approximately 2.5 billion email users are legitimate. 55% of email messages sent daily are from business users, who send and receive an average of 121 emails per day. Consumers on the other hand not only make up a smaller percentage of email users but also are seeing a decline in usage due to heavier reliance on text messaging (SMS), social media, IM and other forms of communication. The Radicati Group estimates that the overall global numbers will continue to rise and by 2018, there will be approximately 2.8 million email users worldwide.
The Impact of these Statistics
The numbers above show just how widespread email use is in today’s society. As these numbers continue to rise, the importance of being able to effectively communicate through email correspondence becomes increasingly valued. Not only does email etiquette play a role in personal communications anymore, but it also becomes a crucial part of the business world as well.
Tips for Appropriate Email Etiquette
Don’t Be Lazy
When e-mailing with friends, many of us have the tendency to get sloppy and just downright lazy. We begin to depend upon shorthand and web-based abbreviations in order to save ourselves a little time. Unfortunately this “time saver” could cost you your job if you allow it to carry over in to business correspondence. When using e-mail to correspond with business associates it is important to avoid using these “time savers” as they give the appearance of unprofessionalism. Pay attention, write words out fully and avoid using slang terms.
Examples of being lazy in email correspondence are as follows:
- Using contractions such as “isn’t” and “can’t” instead of “is not” and “cannot.”
- Using terms like b/c, KWIM and TTYL instead of “because” “know what I mean” and “talk to you later.”
- Writing a mass email rather than individual emails which make individual clients feel valued.
Don’t Get Sloppy
It is easy to fall in to the trap of sloppiness when writing e-mails. Where telephone correspondence is rarely impacted by grammatical errors, written correspondence is. Despite the fact that most e-mail programs have built-in spell check and grammar check services, we can often find ourselves neglecting to use these services in an effort to speed up the process of emailing. It is important not to get sloppy when emailing, as it can often leave the impression that sloppiness in correspondence carries over to sloppiness in the workplace.
Examples of being sloppy in email correspondence are as follows:
- Failing to use spell check.
- Failing to use punctuation or using it incorrectly.
- Incorrect use of plurals.
Get to the Point
No one wants to read a novel when a single sentence will do. This fact is not only true for leisurely e-mail communications but for business email communications as well. Keep your correspondence short and to the point. Most people value their time just as much as you value yours and it is polite to recognize this.
An Example of failing to get to the point:
- It was lovely to see you this weekend at the company party. I am so glad that your son is doing well in his new job and that your daughter is excelling in her college career. I wanted to touch base with you in regard to the new accounts we had discussed on Saturday night…
An Example of getting to the point:
- It was lovely to see you this weekend at the company gathering. I wanted to touch base with you briefly in regard to our conversation on Saturday if you could get back to me at your earliest convenience.
Pay Attention to Caps Lock
Typing in all caps is not only incorrect grammar but it is also extremely annoying. Pay attention to your caps lock when typing an e-mail and if your caps get reversed, take the time to re-type what you have written correctly. You wouldn’t hand write a letter in all caps so don’t type one that way either.
Examples of poor use of caps lock:
- DEAR JANE, I WANTED TO TOUCH BASE WITH YOU…
- dEAR jANE, i WANTED TO TOUCH BASE WITH YOU…
- dear jane, I wanted to touch base with you…
Understand When to Use Blind Copy and Courtesy Copy
Blind copy (BCC) and courtesy copy (CC) are often used incorrectly when emailing. BCC is used when recipients of an e-mail don’t have a need to see other e-mail recipients. CC is used when e-mail recipients should be aware that others are being included in the email correspondence.
- When e-mailing a correspondence to a significantly large list of recipients (for example, a newsletter) it is etiquette to use BCC. In this case BCC ensures that recipients of the newsletter do not receive a large list of contacts with your email newsletter.
- When emailing a correspondence to a business contact if someone else is included in the correspondence, it is courteous to use CC to ensure that recipients are aware that the correspondence is not confidential. Another common use of CC is when legal representatives are included in email correspondence; in this case they are placed on the CC line.
Don’t Overuse Group Emails
Group email is a great feature when used appropriately; however, it is not appropriate in all situations. Group e-mail is suitable as a means for communicating with a small group that is collaborating on a project; however, it is not suitable as a method of communicating with a single group member. Group e-mails are impersonal and should be used strictly as a method of centralizing instructions, basic information or data.
Examples of poor use of the group email function:
- Addressing a problem with an individual’s work ethic by replying to the group e-mail in which that individual is collaborating.
- Using group email to carry on office conversations without leaving your desk.
Avoid Forwarding Non-Relevant E-mails
Once in a while you may use your e-mail address to correspond with friends who forward chain letters or “junk” mail. While you cannot be held responsible for your friend’s actions, it is important to let them know that you would prefer not to be the recipient of this information. It is also crucial that you do not forward these types of e-mails to other contacts unless they have explicitly asked for them. These types of e-mails should also NEVER be forwarded to workplace contacts.
Examples of poor forwarding skills:
- Including co-workers on a chain letter so you can avoid the “consequences” of not forwarding the email to enough people within the allotted time frame.
- Forwarding pictures of your new kitten to everyone in the office because she is so cute. While it is okay to send pictures to close friends, don’t simply include everyone regardless of whether you engage with them socially or not.
Don’t Replace Face-to-Face Contact with E-mail
While e-mail is a great way to stay in touch while multi-tasking and without having to match up schedules with the individual you are corresponding with, it should not be used as a replacement for face to face contact. Many times, particularly in business, it is important to put in an appearance simply to let your contact know that you value them as a client and not just as a “contact.” Putting in an appearance also gives many people the peace of mind of knowing who you are and what your personal demeanor is like. A large part of doing business is about personal relationships and these types of relationships cannot simply be built upon words.
Examples of replacing face-to-face contact:
- Sending out a “happy birthday” email to a co-worker who works a few doors down from you.
- E-mailing a client to ask whether they will be renewing their contract with your company in the coming year.
- E-mailing your boss to ask for a promotion.
Moderating Your Tone through E-mail
Most people have experienced a misunderstanding that has resulted from tone being misconstrued via email. If you have something to say that could be misconstrued in any way by sending it via email rather than saying it over the phone or in a face to face conversation, then you should opt for either of the latter two options instead. The perfect example of this is sarcasm; it is exceptionally difficult to construe sarcasm through the written word particularly if someone does not know you very intimately.
Examples of failure to moderate tone:
- My, aren’t you clever.
- Well that’s a very good question, isn’t it?
*Note how difficult it is to read the tone of these sentences without actually hearing the writer’s voice.
Emails Are Not Private
Emails, particularly in the workplace are not private and it is important to remember this when communicating both with co-workers and with business contacts. Avoid talking about personal affairs that could result in reprimand for the recipient or embarrassment should someone else get hold of the email in question. You must always be mindful of the fact that most companies reserve the right to screen employees email records and filter them as they choose.
Examples of times when privacy should be considered in email:
- E-mails that inquire about personal domestic or health conditions.
- E-mails that badmouth co-workers or employers (overall it is NEVER a good idea to send these types of emails.)
- E-mails discussing delicate financial information.
Always Include Valid Contact Information
Most e-mail users build a “signature” in to their business email account which contains personal contact information. This signature is automatically attached to every email sent from the designated email account and ensures that email recipients have a valid means to contact you. It is important to ensure that the information contained within this signature is up to date. If you do not use an email signature, try to make sure that all email correspondence provides recipients with a valid method of contacting you aside from e-mail.
Poor examples of providing contact information:
- Using a professional or business email signature to direct users to your “hotmail.com” email address.
- Using a professional or business email signature to advertise your favorite online website.
- Including an improper or impolite quote in your professional or business email signature.
Discussions Are Better Had In Person or Over the Phone
It is important to understand what you and your email recipient hope to gain from email communication. Some topics of conversation are simply not conducive to email correspondence. Before sending an email, you should always ask yourself whether the conversation would be better had in person or at least over the phone in order to provide the other person with an opportunity to “chime in.”
Examples of topics that should not be discussed via email solely:
- Asking for a promotion or a raise.
- Resolving disagreements.
- Negotiating contracts.
Be Aware of Your Level of Familiarity
Oftentimes it is easy to get sucked in to a level of informality when corresponding with associates via e-mail. It is important however, to maintain appropriate levels of familiarity when using email just as you would when using a telephone or when talking face to face.
Examples of poor use of familiarity:
- Addressing your boss by their first name.
- Neglecting to address a client by their name at all, or recognizing them by their company name only.
- Addressing a client by their formal name when they have requested to be recognized by their first name only.
Ensure You Address All Aspects of an Email
When responding to a business email it is important to ensure that you have addressed all of the points that were raised in the original email. The best way to do this is to read over any email before you send it to prevent having to send a second follow-up email covering anything you forgot to address. It is also equally as important to attach any pertinent attachments before sending an email. While it is not rude to send a second follow-up email if something is neglected in the first, it is always best to cover everything the first time around to avoid your recipient thinking that you lack attention to detail.
Don’t E-mail When You Are Feeling Emotional
There is a common saying in psychology that you should never engage with someone who is hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Under these situations someone is likely to lash out and say things that are charged by their emotional state rather than saying things that are logical to the situation. The same concept applies to e-mail correspondence. At any point when you feel any one of these situations affecting you, you should walk away from an email or put off correspondence until a later time when you have had a chance to regroup. Composing an email before you have a level head can not only lead to poor decision-making but it can also lead to job loss.
Always Fill in the Subject Line of Your Email
The subject line of your email will not only help your email recipient to identify the timeline in which an email needs addressing , but it will also help them to determine whether the e-mail can be opened at a specific time – for example, if a co-worker is standing over their shoulder. Keep subject lines short but to the point and if they urgently require a response flag them as requiring such.
Examples of poor use of subject lines:
- Those files you asked for this weekend.
- Melanie’s poor performance review.
- The complete file cabinet contents of the legal cases from 4/10/2000 through 4/10/2014 in alphabetized order.
Examples of better use of subject lines:
- The Lincoln Files.
- Re: Melanie’s Performance Review.
- 4/10/2000 – 4/10/2014 Alphabetized Cases.
Stay in Contact
If an associate emails you and you do not have time to respond immediately, or you need time to formulate a response, consider dropping a one line reply to let them know you received their email. There is nothing worse than wondering whether your email has been trapped in a SPAM filter, particularly when the email pertains to a business project.
Examples of poor quick replies:
- Busy, will reply later.
- No time, will read later.
- Will answer when I have more time.
Examples of better use quick replies:
- Give me a day to mull this over and I will get back to you with my response.
- I’m just about to run in to a meeting, let me get back to you on this before the end of the day.
- I’d like a little time to assess the situation, let me get back to you by 5pm.
It is important to note that the more detailed and specific your quick reply is, the more satisfied your recipient will be.
Knowing Which Etiquette Rules to Apply When
With so many rules of etiquette to follow it can be difficult knowing which rules to apply in specific circumstances. The general rule of thumb is that it is always better to be more formal than needed than less formal than needed. Rarely are email recipients offended by an email that is too polite, but an email that is too informal is sure to offend.