Common Sense Email Etiquette

by: Sharon LeBlanc
Consultant: Training and Research

Don’t forget your manners for the sake of convenience. Regard for correct protocol costs positively nothing, but disregard can indiscriminately cost millions. The rules of techno-etiquette are based on the same principles as good manners: common sense and courtesy. Perhaps the greatest need for refinement is in the domain of electronic mail.

Do you remember the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum? To name a few excerpts:

  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat and after you’ve been to the washroom.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life–learn some, and think some, and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day, some.
  • Take a nap in the afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • And then remember the first word you learned–the biggest word of all–LOOK.”

Most of the good manners we learned in that book apply in today’s digital world too. The exemplar of that good taste has gravitated into techno-etiquette. When sending an email, say please and thank-you, don’t shout or swear at people, don’t send nasty notes, and be prompt and polite. Using good digital manners will help you look adept, gracious and knowledgeable.

Points to Ponder

  • Avoid clichés like “Have a nice day.” It’s overdone.
  • Internet chat room phrases, such as 4U, LOL (laughing out loud), don’t belong in business correspondence even if it’s an email.
  • Keep your language polished and professional. Ridicule and jokes can be easily misunderstood.
  • Refrain from using trendy jargon, slang or abbreviations. Nothing is more irritating than receiving emails full of spelling errors, poor grammar, and lacking punctuation. For example, “…lets do lunch the pump @ 12 i will ask kieth to. see u their.”
  • Never send an email when you are angry. You may regret it.
  • People expect speedy response from email. Try to answer your mail at least once a day, even just to send the message you won’t be answering soon. Set up the “vacation email” when on holiday so people won’t expect a reply until your return. If you aren’t going to check your email, disconnect it. Otherwise, the customer will assume you don’t care enough to want their business.
  • Keep emails short. (10 lines maximum) People are deluged with information.
  • Never write an email in all lower case letters. people will think you are illiterate.
  • Keep the subject line specific. For example: ” Friday Meeting” not “Hey you.” Put the most concise information possible in your subject line. Your mail will get a quicker response, and will be less apt to be lost.
  • Confidential emails don’t exist. Anything you say in an email cannot only be saved in electronic eternity, but can be filtered to the masses in one click. Write only what you would display on a neon sign.
  • If writing business email, treat it as a business letter. Begin and end with a salutation. Email does have spell-check. Use it before sending, even if you’re a good speller. It’s amazing what errors you make when you’re in a hurry, or you’re staring at the computer screen with tired eyes. Write in short paragraphs.
  • When you don’t know the recipient well, or have not asked permission, think twice before you attach a document. Chances are, the recipient doesn’t have the correct software to open the attachment. Also, attachments are infamous virus carriers. It’s better to send the document in text form in the email. Otherwise, ask for permission prior to sending the attachment.
  • Whether it’s the good luck that will grace your life if you forward this message, or the funny joke, how many of these have deluged your email? How much of your time do you want to spend opening and reading these? Think twice before forwarding these, especially if there is an attachment. People are fearful of viruses.
  • When responding to or forwarding an email, delete the irrelevant parts of the original message. Don’t just hit Reply or Forward. It makes the new message difficult and annoying to read.
  • Emails should be literal, in that what you are writing is what you actually mean. There is no room for irony, sarcasm or double entendres. You can never be sure if the person on the other end has his or her own interpretation that is different from the one you intended.

Whether it’s lessons we learn while playing in the sandbox in kindergarten, or as a quarterback on a high school football team, they become our life lessons. “Think what a better world it would be if we all–the whole world–had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all the governments had, as a basic policy, to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess,” says Fulghum. Patience and good manners not only get and keep the friends you make in your childhood and adolescence, their common sense also help close business deals once you’ve grown up and become an adult.

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