You could well be appalling or even upsetting your colleagues and business acquaintances if you aren’t following standard email etiquette. With pen and paper letter writing becoming a dying art and with how easy it is to slip into text speak, many people simply forget there are rules of email etiquette.
1. Public Only
The most important of the rules of email etiquette is to think about how you would feel if your private email made it into the public arena. If it would destroy you or dent your reputation, don’t take the risk. Discuss your private matters behind closed doors. Keep everything public and professional.
2. An Introduction
Good email manners are about treating people as you would in real life. When you’re talking to someone you don’t speak to on a regular basis, introduce yourself. Tell them who you are and how you came to know them. A sentence or two will suffice. You don’t need to give them an excerpt from your memoirs.
3. Angry Emails
An angry email is a dangerous email. Schools should teach people how to write emails while remaining calm. Anger remains forever. Say something one moment and people forget about it after the apology. Write it down and they’ll refer back to it forever. If you have bad news, say it in person. One of the most useful pieces of advice about emails that everyone should take heed of is to compose your angry message while your temper is flaring, but then leave it for a few hours or even until the next day. Things may look different once your temper has cooled off, and that delay could well avert a drama or a situation you really didn’t mean or want to create.
4. Exclamation Marks
Of all the rules of writing emails, knowing how and when to use exclamation marks should be a priority. After all, who enjoys knowing they’re being screamed at? Not only that, it looks incredibly immature. They don’t make you look big and they don’t make you look professional. Avoid them!!!!!!! (See what I mean – every single rule of grammar states just one exclamation mark is necessary)
5. Confidential Information
Confidential information should remain confidential. Emails aren’t particularly safe. For example, it’s a well-known fact Gmail doesn’t have any real privacy protections in place. If you lose access to your email account, your confidential information could find itself all over the Internet. And once something hits the Internet, you won’t get it off no matter how many lawsuits you try to file.
6. Respond Quickly
Nothing is more annoying than someone who doesn’t know how to compose emails and reply to them in a timely fashion. It’s damn rude to not reply to someone within 24-48 hours. It’s in the same category as someone talking to you in real life and you not even looking in their direction. Furthermore, in a work setting, an email you don’t reply to could mean a lost opportunity.
7. One Liners
No, I don’t mean your jokes that really aren’t funny. We’re talking about those pointless emails with just a ‘thanks’ or a ‘bye’. These one-word emails serve no purpose and just waste the time of both the sender and the receiver. While this isn’t really one of the essential rules of email etiquette, it’s good for increasing efficiency. Stick to writing ‘no reply necessary’ at the bottom of your emails in a professional setting. In a personal setting, the other person will likely know not to do anything.
8. Text Speak
Good email manners shouldn’t involve talking about using proper English. Sadly, we have to be reminded that proper English will take us a lot further than text speak. Never use text speak in an email, unless you’re speaking to a family member or close friend. Text speak, such as ‘gr8’ and ‘lol’, will only leave a bad impression. Remember who you’re talking to. There’s no guaranteeing they even understand your text speak and what you’re trying to say. It might save time, but it also shows you haven’t put much effort into the correspondence.
9. Improper Formatting
Formatting must be as if you were writing a letter. Keep everything clean. Avoid walls of text and try to split up your paragraphs to leave a good amount of white space. Your email should be easy on the eye. Stick to the default text and remove any excessive quotes at the bottom of the mail. You don’t want to take up too much of the receiver’s inbox space. It’s just how to write emails and demonstrate that you care about the other person’s needs.
10. Title Clarity
The average businessperson can receive fifty emails every day. Most of these will never be opened. They’ll scan through the various titles and delete anything they feel isn’t worth their time. Make your title as clear as possible. Make sure it isn’t cryptic. Mystery won’t encourage them to read it. It will encourage them to trash it. You know how annoying it is to find reams of messages with just “re:” in the title box (my absolute pet hate.) With these rules of composing emails, you’ll make it past the first hurdle and have your messages read.
11. Spam Filters
Sadly, not a lot of people know how to compose emails. Spam filters have had to evolve to accommodate this. Even if your intentions are good, you can still find your messages being redirected to the spam folder. This is why you need to avoid excessive capitalization, punctuation, and lots of embedded links. Look at what spam filters tend to target and do everything you can to do the exact opposite.
12. Change the Subject
It might be tempting to simply reply to someone you regularly correspond with by clicking their previous email. Although it’s more convenient for you, it could mean your urgent email isn’t opened. In a professional setting, people tend to organize their emails. If your urgent email has the subject title of a non-urgent subject, it could go unread.
13. Large Attachments
Large attachments clog up inboxes and eat up space. Important emails from other people could bounce. Warn them before you send them anything over 500KB. And to further fulfill this most essential of rules of email etiquette, use an independent file sharing website instead. That way, you can just send them a unique link they can click. The file never has to enter their email inbox. Plus, it still gives them the choice as to whether they download it.
14. Reply All
This is less about good email manners and more about information protection. Before clicking on the ‘Reply All’ button, ask yourself whether everyone really needs to read the message. Many managers have made the mistake of sending confidential company information to the whole company, and in many cases this has led to them losing their jobs.
15. Use the Phone
The key to how to write emails is to know when you don’t need to write emails. For large topics that need discussing now, or for last-minute cancellations, pick up the phone and call the person directly.
16. High Priority Option
The rules of composing emails often miss out the issue of the ‘high priority’ option. Whether this is something offered by your email provider or you writing ‘urgent’ in the subject line, use it sparingly. You’re shooting yourself in the foot by using it all the time because nobody will take it seriously.
17. Get to the Point
Long emails aren’t popular these days. People lead busy lives and they want to know everything now. It doesn’t matter if your message is only two paragraphs long. If the content density is high, your recipient will appreciate it.
18. Social Position
Write your email based on the person’s social position. If you’re talking to your manager, refer to them with a professional tone. Even open the email with ‘Mr XXX’ to maintain the correct level of formality. And this isn’t the only part of how to compose emails. If you’re too informal in a casual setting you’ll come off as disrespectful.
19. Your Reflection
Finally, understand that every email is a reflection of who you are as a person. If your email is littered with spelling mistakes, you’re telling people you’re sloppy and lazy. Ask yourself whether the message is a true reflection of you and the persona you want to present each time you send an email.
Just because technology has made our communications so much quicker and easier, it shouldn’t mean we forget our manners. Email etiquette means treating people with respect, using the system to its many advantages and presenting yourself how you’d like to be perceived. How do you feel about this? Do you simply open the message and type away not giving any thought to the rules of writing emails?