Email Etiquette: Read This Before You Hit Send

Email Etiquette: Read This Before You Hit Send

Sacha Cohen writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

Who doesn’t love e-mail? It’s convenient, fast, and easy to use. Plus, it’s a great way to network and keep up with business and personal acquaintances. I’ve been an e-mail junkie since I started using it in 1995 and so over the years, I’ve learned the etiquette of this communication medium. If you’re new to e-mail, however, you may be unaware of the nuances associated with e-mail. For example, did you know that typing in ALL CAPS is perceived as shouting and sending attachments by e-mail is generally a no-no? To help you avoid the embarrassment of breaching e-mail etiquette, follow these simple tips.

1. Be professional. When writing e-mail for business, be as professional and polite as you would if you were writing a regular letter. In other words, just because this medium seems informal, doesn’t mean that it is.

For example:

  • Don’t use all uppercase or lowercase. For instance, in e-mail, people often are lazy and don’t bother using uppercase letters or proper grammar. Avoid this practice if you want to make a good impression.
  • Use “emoticons” sparingly, if at all. That includes the smiley faces, frowns, and winks created using commas, periods, and semi-colons.
  • Address the person as you would in a business letter. Generally, “Dear Bob,” is much better than “Hey, Bob, or “Yo, Bob.” Once you see how the other person addresses you (in other words, some people are more casual than others), you can adjust your style if necessary.

2. Don’t forget formatting. Nothing is worse than misspelled words, poor grammar, or cutesy fonts and colors in a professional e-mail message. It’s easy to make sure that all of your correspondence is spelled properly, just turn on the “spell check” feature in your e-mail application so that it automatically reviews every piece of mail you send out. As for fonts and color, stick with traditional fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial and use black as your font color. Avoid using brightly colored backgrounds or “stationery.” Stationery (a graphical template that some e-mail applications provide) can significantly increase the file size of the e-mail messages you send.

3. Watch Out for Attachments. One of the easiest ways to receive or send a virus is within an e-mail attachment, particularly an executable (.exe) file. The only time you should open an attachment is if it’s something you are expecting from a trusted source, and even then, you should always check it for viruses first before opening it. Similarly, you should only send attachments that are free of viruses and that the recipient is expecting. Sending a large attachment to an unsuspecting person is considered bad form.

4. Sit on It. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was, “Don’t write an e-mail when you’re steaming mad.” After all, it’s one thing to have an argument over the phone or in person where it won’t be recorded for all time–but when you send scathing comments in writing, you may live to regret it. Old e-mails can come back to haunt you.

5. Keep It Short and Sweet. E-mail is a great medium for short, concise writing. It’s not the place to go into a 10-paragraph diatribe over a project’s mismanagement or a colleague’s behavior. I once had a boss who would wait until the very end of the day and then send me terribly verbose e-mails (all color-coded with plenty of boldface type for emphasis), which I always received first thing the next morning. You can imagine how I came to dread checking my messages. Keep in mind that once you get a reputation for long-winded e-mails, it will be difficult to lose.

6. Make It Meaningful. A prompt (within 24-hour) response is the norm for e-mail. However, if all you’re doing is sending a note that says “thanks” or “I agree,” you’re wasting precious bandwidth. You are better off not sending a note at all unless you have something meaningful to add.

7. Slim Down Your Sig. Few things are more irritating than a “signature” that goes on forever. Just like the message itself, keep your signature file short (4-6 lines is the most common length). Simply include your name, title, company name (if applicable) phone number, fax number, and Web site URL.

8. Don’t Be Forward. No, I’m not talking about an overt glance, I’m talking about forwarding e-mails such as jokes, chain letters, or spam (advertisements or blatant commercial promotions). Whenever I get a similar e-mail, I tend to delete it right away. After all, who has time for that sort of thing in today’s work world? You’ll probably discover that most seasoned e-mail users avoid frivolous e-mail like the plague. It’s worth following their lead.