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E-mail Etiquette: An Essential Guide

Posted on August 29, 2011 at 9:55 PM

What would the Internet be without e-mail? It's a fast, efficient method of communication. It entertains us and helps us keep in touch with family, friends and others. However, when using e-mail to communicate, there are some unofficial etiquette guidelines that can make the experience more pleasant for the ones who read your messages.

These 'guidelines' are unofficial in the sense that e-mail is completely voluntary and there is no way to really enforce them. It is up to each of us to take responsibility for our good manners when using e-mail and other forms of online electronic communication.


E-mail Etiquette Guidelines

1. Do not type in all capital letters. This makes your message difficult to read due to the loss of word-shape recognition.

In addition, using all caps is viewed in the online community as the written equivalent of yelling. It can come across as pushy or angry, and dilute the original intent of your e-mail.

2. When sending an e-mail to multiple people, use the Bcc: field. This will keep your recipients from seeing the addresses of the others you sent the message to. This protects the privacy of all involved and also prevents annoying and potentially embarrassing 'Reply to all' incidents.

Along the same lines, when sending a forward, go through the body of the forwarded message and delete out all the header info that shows the e-mail addresses of those who previously received that message.

3. Speaking of forwards, DON'T! Of course, you may have a few friends or family who don't mind forwards, but avoid the habit of sending on messages to everyone in your contact list indiscriminately.

Usually, it is best to ask each person if they want to receive forwards. If someone requests you stop sending them forwards, don't be offended. It's nothing personal. Some people view e-mail as a tool, not a distraction, and don't choose to use their time looking at things that have been forwarded to them.

In addition, many forwards are misleading, factually incorrect, outright scams, or so old that anyone who's had Internet access for more than a year or so has already seen whatever is in that e-mail and most likely no longer finds it amusing.

4. Do not request confirmation of receipt. There are some cases, such as in business, where receipt confirmation may be appropriate, but in such cases, this should be an automatic procedure that is initiated when someone opens your message.

Often though, e-mail is viewed as a quick, informal communication method. Sending a confirmation, even just one word, can be viewed as highly inconvenient. Trust that the e-mail system works, and that your message got through. Besides that, if I confirm receipt of your message, how do I know you got my confirmation, unless you confirm receipt of my confirmation? This is a potentially never-ending annoyance that also has a hint of micro-managing thrown in, so it is best to avoid this little trap.

5. Don't use text-speak. OMG and LOL may debatably have their place in cell phone texting, but that kind of thing really doesn't belong in an e-mail. Not everyone knows what each abbreviation means, and this is further complicated when individuals make up their own little acronyms.

Abbreviating curse words is also no good. It has the same effect as using the actual word, and should be avoided as a general rule. There's already enough coarseness in daily life, why impose more of it on people you are sending e-mails to?

6. It's good to use an e-mail signature, so that all your messages are ended the same way. It saves you time and can impart a bit of professionalism even to your everyday correspondences.

Using crazy fonts, bright colors, animations, or long-winded witticisms in your signature? Not so good. It may feel like a way to express individuality, but the end result is that it makes messages look messy and less professional. Most people selectively ignore such things anyway, so keeping it short and simple usually works to best effect.

7. Literacy is under assault! Don't contribute to the trend by using sloppy grammar, spelling and punctuation. Even if it's not your strong suit, use the spell check, and read over what you type before hitting the Send button. Aim for clarity and readability when writing an e-mail, and your messages will have greater impact.

It might be tempting to come up with your own style (such as using question marks at the end of all sentences, or putting commas in places they don't belong), or type in a way that makes sense to you but isn't technically correct. This can create real difficulties for others trying to read what you type. Stick to the rules you learned in school and your messages will come across as more competent and professional.

8. Do not use the font called Comic Sans. Ever. For anything.


These guidelines are just a start to proper e-mail etiquette, but putting these into practice can have a great effect on the quality of your messages. People are more likely to read what you send them if you are known for being a considerate e-mailer. You can even encourage others to do better in these areas when using these tips yourself.

So, enjoy the gift of e-mail. Use it wisely, and will it serve you well.

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