The answer is that everyone needs an Email Etiquette Guidance Policy. Email continues to be an evolving communication media and although it shares many of the qualities of the telephone, letter and face-to-face conversation, it is different in its etiquette.
More established methods of communication have defined etiquette that we all recognise; stating your name when you answer the phone, signing your name to letters you write or saying goodbye at the end of a conversation. Apart from being polite, this etiquette provides the important framework with which people communicate with each other. Email is still comparatively new (don’t forget that the Internet itself as we know it, is still only 25 years old) and therefore some people remain unsure how to communicate with it, which leads to confusion, misunderstanding and possibly hurt feelings where none were intended.
Gradually, a worldwide Email etiquette is developing, and as such many firms are recommending, but not enforcing, guidance for the use of Email. Some of the issues to consider are listed below:
- Have a clear subject, title or topic line: It is frustrating for those who receive a lot of Email not to be able to quickly gauge the relevance and subject matter of a message they have received. Similarly searching for a previously opened ambiguously titled message amongst other ambiguously titled messages wastes time. The subject/topic/title line of an Email should therefore be worded clearly and accurately to represent the content of your message. Consider this carefully when replying or forwarding an Email, as you have the opportunity to make changes in the subject line.
- One message, one topic: Don’t try to cram multiple topics into one message, particularly if you require replies to different questions. It is usually less anxiety producing and easier to read when receiving several shorter Emails rather than one long one. It also makes it easier for your recipient to manage their Emails, as specific messages can be categorised easily.
- Be responsive: People expect a reply to most messages. Ensure you check your Email account regularly and when you receive a message attempt to read and respond to it within a reasonable amount of time (couple of days at most). Even if you cannot thoroughly read it or create a response it is polite to send a short reply to the sender to let them know you have received the Email and will provide a proper rely when you can. It would be a good idea to offer a date or time as to when they can expect a reply from you. When you are away from your Email system for a reasonable amount of time, be sure to have an automated response or colleague responding for you, to tell senders that you are away and when you will be back.
- Stay organised: It is a very good idea to manage your Email folders. Delete unwanted and unimportant Emails (keeping in mind any policies required to keep records) and organise and archive your remaining messages in a logical fashion. This helps you keep track of your Emails and, in the event that you are away and someone needs access to your messages, they will have a reasonable chance of finding what they are looking for.
- Always read your Email before sending: Read your Email before you send it. This will help you catch any mistakes and keep your recipients from being confused. Particularly if you wrote it in the heat of the moment or off the cuff you may want to rethink the tone and content. Remember that once you send something, you’ve lost control of the information. It is also a good idea to check your intended recipients, particularly when replying.
- Be Explicit: When writing Emails it is very important to explicitly convey the sense in which you write it. Readers of your Emails may easily get the wrong impression, particularly if you use irony or humour in your messages. Although not particularly professional, and to some people very annoying, the use of emoticons (emotional icons) provides some ability to insert a sense of how you are saying something. An example of a simple emoticon is the “smiley face” 🙂 Emoticons can have a specific meaning so it is not recommended to use complex ones without knowing their specific etiquette.
- Cautiously include Personality: Writing the way you speak is a very natural way of writing. However those not familiar with who you are will most likely not be able to appreciate the extra personality you put into messages. It is a good idea not to write in your personal style unless you know the person you are sending the mail to you and you are sure that message will go to no one else.
- Keep it Brief: Most people do not enjoy reading Emails off of a computer screen, particularly if they are longer than the visible height of the screen. Where possible, keep it short. The following section has some helpful suggestions on how to do so.
- Paste only the useful bits for a reply: When replying to a statement and pasting the original statement into your message, only use the most relevant bits of it, rather than the whole of the original message.
- Break up the block of text: If write a long message, ensure there are appropriate indentations or line spaces to keep the text from become one giant block of works. Give your recipient’s eyes some reference points.
- Keep it Simple: Email tools usually provide a variety of ways to format the messages you send. Not all of the options available aid in communication and changes from the standard template of black lettering in a standard font on a white background should be used sparingly. The following section offers things to consider.
- Make it readable: Colour changes to the text and backgrounds are often available in Email tools. If you choose to change the colours of such things, make sure that the end product is easy to read. For instance, yellow text on a white background is not particularly easy to see. Additionally, there may be a variety of fonts to use. Although it can be fun to change fonts, remember that deviation from the standard Arial, Verdana or Times New Roman can be annoying to some people, and may give the wrong impression depending on the style of font. Remember that Arial or Verdana text is easiest to read on a computer screen, while Times New Roman is best on a printed page.
- DON’T USE ALL CAPITALS or all lower case: Using all capitals is the equivalent of Shouting. Using all lower case letters looks lazy and unprofessional, but has no particular meaning.
- Use correct punctuation: Punctuation is an important part of written communication. Strange punctuations are as bad as missing punctuations. Most people will appreciate not having to decipher your message due to punctuation mistakes.
Implementing an Email Etiquette Guidance Policy
Email is so easy and convenient to use people tend to send them without considering how many Emails their recipient may get in a day. In the Email Etiquette Policy (part of Bizezia’s Work Manual) it offers additional advice to keep the number of Emails down and to handle what you receive as effectively as possible. If you are getting too many Emails, this guidance provides some etiquette on how to ask people to reduce the amount of Emails they send to you. There’s also a section on common courtesies you should always use.
There’s an Email Etiquette Guidance Policy, which is part of Bizezia’s Work Manual system (see details and subscription rates). If you would like to see the policy statement, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org