With email as pervasive as it is — replacing, in many cases, “snail mail,” phone calls, and in-house meetings — the need for clarity, consistency, and control becomes paramount. After all, the very characteristics that make email a useful and indispensable tool — that is, its convenience and ease — also cause the greatest problems.
Particularly in one’s professional life, it is crucial to avoid the pitfalls of email, and there are many. There is a certain casualness that has become associated with emailing, and unfortunately this informality can disrupt our work lives. There are many etiquette guides and many different etiquette rules, but many of these may be specific to your particular corporate culture.
Here are some rules for email use that I feel apply to most everyone most of the time.
- Be concise. Avoid long sentences. Neither clients nor colleagues want to read lengthy emails. Think about what you want to say and get to the point.
- Use the active voice and avoid the passive. This is true of all correspondence, missives, and other written text. You want your prose to punch and you want to come off knowledgeable and in charge.
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Again, this is something that you need to heed at all times; however, this seems to be a greater problem in emails than in written letters, etc. Along those same lines…
- Read your emails before you send them. Misspellings, grammatical errors, and other message missteps make you look unprofessional and careless. An extra five minute read-through can do wonders for your overall authority.
- Answer all questions, and pre-empt further questions. The bulk of emails that get sent everyday cause delays of productivity as much as they enhance it. Nip excessive emailing in the bud and anticipate the needs of your clients etc. with informative and helpful missives.
- Answer swiftly. The ease and speed of emails means that associates should never have to wait too long for a reply.
- Use a meaningful subject. Not only does a clear and evocative subject clarify the reader’s understanding, but it will make it easier for you, the sender, to find a particular email again if needed .
- Use templates for frequently used responses. If you find yourself replying to the same questions again and again — your office location, newsletter requests, etc. — it beneficial to have a template response which you can email out as needed, quickly and painlessly.
- CYA. Do not attach unnecessary files. Do not copy a message or attachment without permission, and do not use email to discuss confidential information. These things all speak to the lack of security that can be of issue with emails. Be careful.
- Don’t send or forward emails containing libelous, defamatory, offensive, racist or obscene remarks. Such emails, even if of a humorous nature and even if you are not the original author, can be construed as harassment and should be outright rejected. See above.
- Avoid using URGENT and IMPORTANT. Do not overuse the high priority option as this function should be saved for those items that really are. Don’t be the coworker who cried wolf.
- Do not overuse Reply to All. Be specific in your replies. This applies even to whom you are emailing. Though an email may have been sent to your entire team, if your reply applies only to your manager, s/he is the only one who should see it.
- Use cc: field sparingly. See above.
- Take care with abbreviations and emoticons. This goes back to the informality of emails getting you into danger. While these things may be appropriate with friends, and even friendly coworkers, they are just not appropriate when dealing with managers, clients, etc.