For some reason, many people forget their manners when using e-mail. It's like what happens to some people when they get behind the wheel of a car. Otherwise mild-mannered drivers utter expletives or make obscene gestures when something doesn't go their way in traffic.
E-mail has probably made the biggest impact on business and personal communications since the Pony Express, but it's easy to misunderstand the nature of it. Strictly speaking, it's not mail.
AccountingWEB has compiled some basic rules and tips for using e-mail communications. The list covers do's and don't's, security and basic etiquette when preparing your e-mail correspondence.
- Remember that an e-mail message is still a written form of communication and must be treated as such regarding capitalization, spelling and grammar. Proofread all e-mail communications thoroughly before sending them.
- Make the subject line specific. Dull or generic subject lines risk being ignored or deleted by hurried staff members scanning a sea of messages. Keep the subject simple and relevant.
- Use proper salutations such as, Dear Jane or Dear John. Close your e-mail correspondence with Regards or Sincerely.
- When replying to a question, copy only the question into your e-mail, then provide your response. You don’t have to hit "Reply" automatically; but don’t send a bare message that only reads, "Yes". Who can remember everything they’ve sent?
- Answer a detailed e-mail message one point at a time. Quote the main points back to them. "Omit needless words".
- Know your recipient. Different people have different ideas of what is acceptable. Find out and respect each person's wishes.
- Avoid sarcasm, unless you're sure it will work, and think very carefully before using e-mail to express anger. With e-mail, once it's sent, it's gone. Be as polite as possible.
- Be very careful of offending others. Religious, racial, political and cultural remarks, even made in perfect innocence, can offend, hurt feelings and anger someone, somewhere.
- Be careful about your use of irony or even some forms of humor, which can be misinterpreted. Unlike face-to-face meetings or phone conversations, there are no visual or oral clues to provide a sense of what is going on.
- Always exercise good taste. An e-mail account is not a license to abuse or insult people. Be respectful.
- Be concise and considerate of the recipient's time and on-line charges, especially with services that charge by the hour or by the size of messages. E-mail messages work best if they're short and to the point.
- Be careful with your address book. It's easy to accidentally send a message to the wrong person. It could be embarrassing.
- Be aware that e-mail can be archived and, under certain circumstances, may not be secure.
- Use "receipt requested" sparingly. Some people view it as a sign of distrust. It is okay to use it if you have reason to question whether the person will log on to receive your message.
- When you respond to e-mail, don't reply to everyone the e-mail has been sent to, unless it's necessary. If you forward an e-mail, and it's been forwarded to you, remove the '>' before each line. It's simple to do in most e-mail programs; simply check your spelling and grammar.
- Check your mail regularly. Unlike a fax or U.S. mail, an e-mail message in most cases is not automatically delivered to your desk. You have to log on to check your mail.
- Always include your name, title, e-mail address and company name in the signature line. Keep the total number of lines for your signature down to four or less, if possible.
- Don't spam! That awful four letter word makes more enemies than friends, so why would you want to use it? Even when it's targeted the returns are low. Most people resent unsolicited advertising, especially if they have to wait for it to download
- Don't send copies of e-mail to people unless they need to be copied. In addition to cluttering up their mailboxes, it can place them in an awkward position, making them feel as if they have to do something with the information. It also can be intimidating to the main recipient.
- Don't send attached files unless you have a very good reason and only if the person is expecting them. Attached files -- Word documents, spreadsheets and software programs -- can carry viruses and clog up network bandwidth. They take a long time to download which can inconvenience the person who receives them.
- Don't send chatty but pointless e-mails, unless you're absolutely sure that the receiver has time and is interested in a conversation.
- Don't forward 'alerts', stories, sermons, poems or news releases, unless you're absolutely sure the receiver would want to read them.
- NEVER USE SHOUTING in upper case letters or excessive use of exclamation points. This is never acceptable and will usually get your e-mail trashed without so much as a glance if you use them in the subject line, but don't use them in the text either if possible; they're rude.
- Don't send HTML e-mail unless it's asked for. All e-mail programs or servers are not able to accept HTML, and it takes longer to download.
- Don't "cry wolf." Avoid "Urgent" or "Priority" unless it is truly necessary.
- Don't get caught up in grammar and punctuation, especially excessive punctuation. Use grammar and punctuation as you would on your company letterhead. You'll see lots of e-mail messages where people put a dozen exclamation points at the end of a sentence for added emphasis.
- Don't send unsolicited mass-mailing advertisements. This is numero uno on the don'ts list and will generate negative results.
- Don't print every e-mail…save a tree or two. One of the goals for e-mail usage is to eliminate (or greatly reduce) the shuffling of paper, but what chance does that have if a significant number of people are going to print every message they receive.
- Don’t send urgent meeting requests via e-mail. On the other hand, if you schedule the meeting for the next day, the chance that they will read the message will be pretty high. Remember, e-mail is not designed for immediate response (that's why you have a telephone), it's designed for convenience.
- Don't send a message when you're angry; cool down, look at the message again, and then decide whether you really want to send it. Most e-mail programs let you easily save a message for sending at a later time.
- Don't send chain letters or messages recruiting participants in make-money-fast schemes. Don't send letters telling your family or friends if they don't forward this to ten people they will have bad luck for seven years. Think about it. Would you want your friends and family to wish that on you?
- Remember there is no such thing as a private e-mail. If you wouldn't say something to a person's face, it's best to not say it in an e-mail. Your boss, the server's administrator, the person you're e-mailing to, and anyone with access to any of those computers - yours, the receiver, the boss, etc, have access to your e-mail. Don't take a chance.
- Don't send highly confidential material via e-mail unless you are using a secure server etc. If you can deliver it by hand or by snail mail, do it.
- With some e-mail systems, the e-mail administrator has the ability to read any and all e-mail messages.
- Some companies monitor employee e-mail and have the right to do so. Be aware of this and always use good judgment and common sense when sending e-mails.
- E-mail software is like all software in that occasionally things go wrong. If this happens, you may end up receiving e-mail meant for another person or your e-mail may get sent to the wrong person. Either way, what you thought was private is not private anymore.
- Somewhere in the world there is a person (usually a hacker) who is able to read your e-mail if he/she tries hard enough.