How to Make a Positive Impact When Sending Email

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By, Edwin Hayward

On the Web, e-mail will often be your first -- or indeed, your only -- point of contact with other people. While everyone has their own distinctive writing style, here are a few general pointers about email etiquette...

Don't Overquote

If you're quoting somebody's message in your reply, try to quote only the relevant portions of the message and not the whole thing. For instance, I used to run a website promotion newsletter, and I was forever getting the whole newsletter sent back to me with a single line saying "Thank you!". The thought is appreciated, but not the length of the message!

Treat Email Confidentially

If somebody sends you information or ideas by email, you should not assume that you have their permission to reproduce that information in a public forum (discussion group, USENET newsgroup, chat site etc.) Email is one-to-one for a reason: it is designed for personal communication. Unless you are explicitly told otherwise, always assume that email you receive has a big "PRIVATE" stamp on it -- so don't spread it around! Even simply forwarding an email to a friend could under certain circumstances be considered a breach of trust by the original sender.

Don't Dice Up Names

This is a pet peeve of mine, but surely I can't be the only one that this bothers? I get frustrated when a total stranger writes to me using a shortened version of my name. Many times, I have gritted my teeth as I read an email which begins "Hi, Ed!". On this site, and in all other communication, my name is spelled out in full: "Edwin".
Until you know which form of a person's name they prefer, it's safer to stick to what you can see in "public" (on their site or newsletter). Once they've replied to your initial email, you'll know the preferred form of their name by the way they signed off in their email!

Don't Blast Messages Around Indiscriminately

If you want to mail a large number of people (for instance, on a mailing list) don't paste all the email addresses into the CC field of your email program. If you do that, each person you are writing to will be able to see the email addresses of all the other people you're writing to! This can be very annoying as people usually don't like to disclose their email address in public. Always use the BCC (blind carbon copy) function instead. That way, each person will only see their own email address on your message.

Think Twice Before Sending HTML Mail

If you are sending an important message to somebody, don't use "HTML" code in your message unless you are sure that their email program can understand "HTML" correctly. If it doesn't, your message will become an unreadable mess -- not the impression you were intending to give, I'm sure!


"As a retailer and owner of a Web site, I find E-mail to be a more courteous form of communication than face-to-face contact. It appears the rules for polite E-mail conduct are well-established. However, as polite in tone as they are, I'm tired of messages that are virtually unreadable, in terms of spelling and grammar, or ask repetitive questions.
The remedies are easy and help ensure that original messages are clear and responded to in a timely manner. First, all of us need to check our spelling and grammar, first by simply running a Spellchecker, then by quickly reviewing the message again for punctuation and grammar. Little typos aren't a big deal. Massive typos and run-on sentences, however, go to the bottom of my correspondence folder.

Second, carefully review replies dealing with multiple subjects. For example, I often get messages that ask multiple questions, i.e.. What's the price? What's the size? What are the shipping terms?, etc. In return, my replies are often replied to again and again with questions that were answered the first time.

I imagine all of us complain about not receiving prompt answers to E-mail inquiries. But I have no doubt that part of the reason is that people on the receiving end are slowed down by queries that make no sense."

"Due to the immediacy of email, a lot of people are quick to write replies or original emails with haste. This is alright when you have something quick to say, like, "Happy Birthday", but when you are upset or furious, the ease of pressing the SEND button can get you in a lot of trouble. If you are upset and you are composing an email, you can write it as hastily as you wish. But don't click the SEND button when you are done. Instead, let the email sit there for an hour or so while you cool off. When you return, review the email and make the changes you feel are appropriate, now that you have more composure.

Another tip that I would like to add isn't so much about etiquette, but just plain advice. Communication between humans is approximately 90% body language, 8% tone of voice, and 2% what you say. With email, you remove the first 98%. Be aware of this when you write emails. Be very obvious with your meanings, since subtleties will be lost or completely misunderstood. Remember this too, when reading others' emails. Their grasp of the language, or their haste in composing the email, may have given it a "virtual tone" that may come off as derogatory or aggressive. Reread it and see if you are simply misinterpreting the words."

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