Monday, August 18, 2008

Communication Etiquette: Top 10 Email Essentials

This might sound really basic to you, but it amazes me how few people follow very simple email etiquette. I get email from people asking (or sometimes demanding) me to help them with something and they don't even put their name at the end of their mail. How can I respond to you if I don't even know your name? Sorry, but those pieces of mail go straight to the trash bin.

Here are my top 10 absolute essentials for business email (personal mail with your best friend might be a different story). Remember that just because we can't see you in an email, we are still imagining what you might be like based on the way you write and present yourself. It's the same as being on the telephone with someone. You still need to preserve your professional image.

So, here we go:

1. Fill in the subject line
I hate mail with an empty subject line. It isn't that much of a problem when I first get the mail, but if I have several different messages from you and I want to go back and find a specific one, it really helps to have a short, topical subject line to refer back to.

2. Write a greeting (ie: Dear John)
Would you ever start a telephone conversation without saying "Hi" first? Weird, isn't it?

3. Use proper spelling
We do have spell check these days. Make sure yours is working properly.

4. Use proper punctuation
5. Use proper grammar
These two points are just given, aren't they? Write like the educated person you are.

6. Don't write in all capital letters
Just in case you missed the memo, writing in all CAPS has come to mean that you're yelling at someone.

7. Don't write in all lower case letters
At the same time, capital letters were invented for a reason. Use them when you start a new sentence and for proper nouns like people and place names.

8. Write your name at the end of your mail
"But it says my name in my email address!" So, what? It's just common courtesy to sign your name at the end of a letter. It doesn't matter if it's electronic or not.

9. Don't overdo your signature
Sometimes I get email where the signature lines (all the extra stuff after your name like your address, phone number, 15 web sites and 32 blogs) are actually longer than the mail itself. Most email programs give you the option of creating several different saved signatures. I think I have at least five that I choose from depending on to whom I'm writing and my relationship with that person.

10. Proof-read your message before you hit "send"
It only takes a minute to quickly review what you've written. Depending on the importance of the mail I send, I might spend a whole lot longer than that proof-reading it. I know we're all busy, and it seems like there are fewer and fewer hours in a day, but taking the time to proof-read is a must if you want to present yourself well. Remember that your spelling and grammar check doesn't catch everything.

It's really common these days to do business with someone over email for years and never actually meet the person face to face. If you hope to make a good professional impression, basic email etiquette is essential!

If you are interested in learning more about email etiquette, I ran across a great blog the other day: Check it out.

I can also recommend a great book: Shirley Taylor's Guide to Effective Email. It's available in major bookstores, and I'm sure you can find it on Amazon. You can get more information here:

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