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E-Mail Etiquette: Know the Rules


When you attend a business meeting, you probably don’t use the wrong fork or slurp wine from fine glassware. Just as it’s important to have good table manners at a luncheon, it’s essential that you mind your e-mail manners in the workplace.

Email etiquette in business isn’t as old a tradition as table manners, but it’s becoming equally as important. A poorly crafted letter zipping through cyberspace can cause you embarrassment or, worse yet, a lost opportunity.

The following are some key principles to help you communicate clearly via e-mail:

Think before you write. The great thing about an electronic message is that it’s quick. The bad thing? It’s quick. If someone sends you an email that raises your ire, you can easily tap out a fiery retort before you have time to cool off — a mistake that can haunt you and hurt your reputation.
The best advice: Steer clear of any flame wars (exchanges of angry emails) that your colleagues may engage in at your company. Take the time to compose your thoughts in a professional manner. Stick to business, be considerate and always maintain your composure — just as you would using any other method of communication.

Make use of the subject line. It sounds like such a simple, unimportant matter, but it’s not. Since many people receive dozens of emails each day, the subject line serves as a critical flag that can help recipients prioritize and track important messages. For example, if you send a fellow employee some key data for the report he or she has been working on, type “important data for ‘xy’ project” in the subject line. Doing so will improve chances that your email gets the attention it deserves.

Don’t misuse the caps lock key. In today’s book of email etiquette, a letter written in all caps suggests that you are shouting at the recipient. Even if you have an important message to convey, the use of ALL CAPS sends the same loud, irritating message.

Write your letter as if the whole world will read it. Don’t put anything in your email that you wouldn’t want anyone else to see. Your message may be forwarded to many people without your knowledge.

Give the recipient a heads-up. If you require a fast response to your email, call and inform the recipient that you’ve sent a message. It’s not only courteous, but also effective since not everyone checks e-mail several times a day.

Respond quickly. If someone has sent you an e-mail, you can assume the answer is eagerly anticipated. Try to respond to all messages as soon as possible, even if your reply does nothing more than acknowledge receipt and indicate when you’ll be able to provide a more thorough response.

Avoid the urge to forward chain letters or jokes. They’re annoying and unprofessional — and take time away from work. If you don’t enjoy receiving them, you can bet your coworkers don’t either. And even if you do find a particular joke humorous, your colleagues may not. Click on “delete” instead of “forward.”

Be literal and avoid sarcasm. Since email recipients can’t see your face or hear your voice, they can’t determine your mood or whether you’re joking. As a result, cute, sarcastic remarks can be read much differently than you intended.

Despite these and many other advantages, email can’t completely replace phone calls or face-to-face meetings — nor should it. These methods of communication continue to be valuable in building relationships and understanding complex situations. When used appropriately and courteously, e-mail will reflect the professionalism and tact that should characterize all of your business interactions.

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