Opening your email inbox can be like opening a Pandora’s box of inadequate grammar, poor spelling, and bad taste. Consider what impressions your emails make on others; it’s always the right time to set your emails apart from the pack. Follow these steps and improve your email etiquette.
1. Keep your email concise, conversational, and focused
It is harder to read letters on a computer screen than on a sheet of paper, so keep emails short and to the point. While there is no ideal email length, keep sentences short, about 8-12 words and leave a space between paragraphs.
- In a work email, get straight to the point: “I’m hoping you will…” “I think we should….” etc. right up front, making the case in the following lines. Many people only read the first few lines before deciding to respond or to save for later. Those lines should give enough of the “meat” to allow an informed decision. For personal emails, it’s often a nice idea to open with a brief personal note before getting to the main point of your email.
2. Avoid fancy formatting
Changing fonts and colors, inserting bullet lists, or using HTML can make an email look bizarre or render it unreadable for the recipient, even if the formatting looks fine on your computer. Keep it simple.
Don’t add an attachment unless really necessary. Keep attachments as small as possible. Most email applications can send and receive attachments up to 1 MB, but anything over that can be a hassle for you or the recipient, and even smaller files can take a long time to open if the recipient’s email connection is slow. If you need to send a larger file, compress or zip it or use online services that will help you send large files such as YouSendIt.com. If you need to send multiple pages, such as meeting plans or large text corrections, send a fax or a typed set of pages in a letter.
- Don’t zip email attachments unless necessary. Unless an attachment is too large to send otherwise, you risk wasting your recipient’s time and possibly hinder them from accessing your attachments. Many mobile devices are unable to uncompress zip files. Additionally, it’s redundant since many common files like .xlsx, .docx, .pptx (MS Excel, Word, and Powerpoint) are already in a compressed format.
- Keep in mind that many people or businesses will not open attachments from someone they don’t know, and some email accounts are set up to automatically send emails with attachments to the spam folder, so if you’re applying for a job, for example, make sure you follow the recipient’s instructions regarding attachments. If no instructions are given, send another email to let the recipient know you’ll be sending an email with an attachment.
4. Think before you send
Don’t send e-mails when you are emotional. Feel free to write the subject and text of the email, then save it. Only add the recipients and send it after you have had time to think about what you are sending; you might change your mind and be better off for it.
- Email has also become a tool to ask or tell people things that you would normally never say face-to-face (ever wonder why you become a different person instinctively online?). If you are sending someone anything, reread it and ask yourself if you would say this to them if they were right next to you, or face-to-face. If it’s on a touchy subject, read it twice.
5. Be careful using abbreviations and emoticons
This may be acceptable in an informal e-mail such as with a friend. However, in a formal letter you wouldn’t have to tell someone that you’re “laughing out loud,” people may find it inappropriate and could feel you are being frivolous.
- Some abbreviations, such as “BTW” for “By the Way,” are commonly used in emails and are generally acceptable except in formal, professional emails.
Related post: How to Improve Soft Skills
Writing New E-mails
1. Use the recipient fields correctly
Addressees in the “to” field are expected to take action, and those on “CC” are for keeping colleagues or bosses informed.
- Be careful about requesting ACTION from more than one person in the “To:” field. This can lead to multiple efforts for the same task, or no effort because it’s assumed someone else is handling the request.
- If sending an e-mail to a list of people whose addresses you want to keep private, put them all in the BCC field and put your own address in the “to” field.
- If you want to phase someone out of the thread (for example, if they have introduced you to someone else, and now you and that person are working out some details and you don’t want to bog down the inbox of the introducer) move the person’s address from the “to” or CC field over to the BCC field.
2. Make the subject line useful
A good subject line provides a useful summary of the email’s content, preparing the reader quickly. Email inboxes are frequently swamped, so a good subject line helps the recipient determine the priority of your email. It also helps to prevent your email from being deleted before it has even been read. Since the subject is the first thing your recipient sees, keep it error free, concise, and avoid generic lines such as “Hi,” “What’s up,” or the recipient’s name (the latter may be blocked by anti-spam filters).
- Avoid prioritizing your messages for the recipient. Get out of the habit of marking every email as “Urgent!” or “High Priority” or your emails will end up being treated like the boy who cried wolf and they’ll all get ignored. It is irritating and presumptuous to assume your e-mail request is higher in the queue than anybody else’s, especially in a work context. Be gracious enough to give the receiver credit for working out for themselves how to prioritize your message.
Replying to E-mails
1 Be careful of who you copy on replies
If you reply to a message and then CC: a third-party that the original sender did not include, be certain in your mind that the original sender will not be upset about it. This information may have been “for your eyes only”. This is especially important if the original sender is your work supervisor. Be cautious about using BCC:. This can backfire if the person being BCC:’d replies back, not having seen that their copy was a blind one.
2. Determine to whom you should reply
Emails sent to you solely generally require that you reply only to the sender, but for emails sent to several people, you may need to choose the “Reply to All” option to send your response to everyone. Be judicious; using “Reply All” all the time creates returns in abundance and leaves messages languishing in the inboxes of many people. Consider the consequences of receiving an email, hitting reply all and it goes out to twenty people and then those twenty people hit reply to all; it can compound very quickly into hundreds of thousands of emails and everyone feels compelled to hit “reply all” as a means of keeping everyone in the loop because nobody knows who is meant to read it and who is not.
3. Think twice before replying to just say thank you
Some people don’t want an email that says “Thanks.” This takes additional time to open the email and read it just to read what you already know. Some people include a line that says “NTN” – “No Thanks Needed.”