Maybe you avoided it at first and got by for awhile. Maybe you embraced it quickly but never used proper care in crafting your messages. Whatever the case, email today is a necessary reality for almost everyone, and a little etiquette will go a long way in helping you more effectively communicate.
State the Subject
Every email has a subject line. Since this is the first part of your email that others will see, it is important that you write a descriptive subject line that will appeal to the reader. Even if you’re only writing your sister, use subject lines like “Fun Things We Did This Weekend” and “Great Guacamole Recipe” rather than “Hi,” “Hey” or something else generic. She’ll thank you next time she throws a Mexican Fiesta.
Control Carbon Copies
Each email you compose also gives you the option to “carbon copy,” or CC, someone other than the primary intended. Of course, you can also put as many people as you want in the “To” field, but CC is a nice place to put the names of people whom you mention in an email, as a courtesy, even if the email wasn’t directly written to them.
Emails also give you the option to send a BCC or blind carbon copy. Much like the CC function, you will send a copy of the email to the people in the BCC field; however, in this case, the person in the “To” field won’t know who else is getting the email. There are two common situations when you might want to use BCC:
- If you are writing a referral or recommendation, BCC the person whom you are recommending so they know that you’ve written something on their behalf.
- If you are sending an invitation or announcement to a lot of different people, put all the addresses in the “BCC” field then put your own address in the “To” field. This protects the privacy of others who may not want their email address shared with all the people on your distribution list. It also makes for cleaner looking email replies and forwards.
If you receive a message where your name was in the BCC field, consider the context of the email, and, if necessary, use extra caution. If you use the “reply-to-all” button, the original recipient will know that you were BCC’d.
Follow the Right Writing Rules
If you have a background as an executive secretary, you may be tempted to write emails with the same formality as a business letter. However, email has evolved as a medium with a style of its own. It typically takes on a slightly less formal tone that is straightforward and conversational without being excessively casual. So, while you can more loosely apply most writing rules, avoid these violations that may interfere with getting your message across:
- TYPING IN ALL CAPS: This no-no is considered the equivalent of shouting and makes your email message harder to read. On the same note, don’t write in all lowercase letters either.
- Misspelling words: Most email programs have a built in spell checker. Make sure yours is turned on and use it. This simple step will increase the credibility of your messages.
- Rambling on and on: As with all of today’s electronic communication, short and to the point will most effectively get your message across. If you have one primary point to make or question to ask, get to it first without asking a reader to sift through lots of extraneous information.
- Writing dense paragraphs: An email packed with words from margin to margin is a real turn off. Readers may get overwhelmed by all the densely packed copy and simply hit “Delete.” Help them quickly scan the content for context by using multiple paragraphs, bullets and subheads, as appropriate.
- Leaving room for misinterpretation: The words you choose have more power in an email than they do in person because your readers can’t read facial expressions or body language to interpret sarcasm or joking. Emoticons have been one way to tackle this challenge; however these may be too informal for some business communications. If you are really struggling to say it right, consider that there are situations when a face-to-face conversation is the best choice.
- Flaming with emotion: Whether it’s a result of misinterpretation or everyday frustration, email tends to bring out strong emotions. And, because you can reply to an email without looking another person in the eye, you may find it tempting to lash out or express yourselves in ways you otherwise wouldn’t. Try to picture yourself talking directly to the person or people you are emailing and don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in person.
Because email is so easy to send, some people get carried away. All kinds of rumors, scams, jokes, blessings, hoaxes and chain “letters” get mass circulation every day because a recipient didn’t have the guts to say, “This stops here!” Before you forward an email to someone else, ask yourself these questions:
- Would you call someone and say what’s in the email?
- Is the email from a trusted and reliable source? If you doubt its authenticity, check it out at www.snopes.com before you forward it.
- Is there any information you can or should delete before forwarding an email? If it has been forwarded several times already, then you should clean up previous routing information.
In case you’re wondering, no one has ever died from eating pop rocks, casinos do not pump extra oxygen onto gaming floors or hotel rooms, and Bill Gates is not giving away a free trip to Disneyland.