A recent article in Business Insider reports that US workers spend up to a quarter of their workweek combing through hundreds of emails. Due to the sheer volume of emails we are required to read, write and respond to each day, using a basic set of rules for email etiquette can make or break how recipients perceive you.
According to career coach and author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette, Barbara Pachter, there are 10 essential email rules you should follow:
- Include a clear, direct subject line
Examples of a good subject line include “Meeting date changed,” “Quick question about your presentation,” or “Suggestions for the proposal.” Pachter suggests that “people often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line. Choose one that lets readers know you are addressing their concerns or business issues.”
- Use a professional email address
ALWAYS use your company email address for business correspondence; never use your personal email address. This is a no-brainer.
- Think twice before hitting ‘Reply All’
Your inbox is already full. When you get 20 replies from an email that may have nothing to do with you, your inbox may be on the verge of exploding. However, ignoring these emails can be difficult, since many people have alert sounds on their smartphones and distracting email pop-up messages on their computer screens. Put yourself in the recipients’ shoes. Do they all need to read your reply? Check yourself here and remember, don’t hit “Reply All” unless you think EVERYONE on the list needs to receive the reply (and all the ones that follow).
- Include a signature block
Pachter suggests that a signature block should provide your reader with some information about you. She says, “Generally, a signature would state your full name, title, the company name, and your contact information, including a phone number. Use the same font, type size and color as the rest of the email.” Also, don’t forget to include your signature on replies and forwards.
- Use professional salutations
Don’t use laid-back, casual expressions like, “Hey you guys,” or “Hi folks.” Pachter says that “Hey is a very informal salutation and generally it should not be used in the workplace. Use Hi or Hello instead.” Patcher also advises against shortening anyone’s name. Use “Hi Michael” unless you’re certain he prefers to be called “Mike.” You can also look to someone’s email signature for the first name they prefer to be called or even the name they used to signed off a previous email communication with you.
- Use exclamation points sparingly
If you choose to use an exclamation point, use only one to convey excitement. Too many exclamation points may come across as if you were shouting at the reader. “People sometimes get carried away and put several exclamation points at the end of their sentences. The result can appear too emotional or immature. Exclamation points should be used sparingly in email writing.”
- Be cautious with humor
Humor can easily get “lost in translation” since tone, context and facial expressions get lost in email. In a professional email exchange, it’s better to leave humor out unless you know the recipient well. Also, something that you think is funny might not be funny to someone else. Pachter says, “Something perceived as funny when spoken may come across very differently when written. When in doubt, leave it out.”
- Proofread every message
Your mistakes won’t go unnoticed by the recipients of your email. And, depending on the recipient, you may be judged for making them. Don’t rely on spell check and especially grammar check. Read and reread your email a few times, preferably aloud, before sending it off.
- Add the email address last
You don’t want to accidentally send an email before you’ve finished writing and proofing it. Even when you’re replying to a message, it’s a good precaution to delete the recipient’s address and put it back in only when you are ready to press “Send.”
- Nothing is confidential, so write this way accordingly
Always remember what former CIA Director David Petraeus apparently forgot: EVERY electronic message leaves a trail. A basic guideline is to assume that others will see what you write so don’t write anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see.
Just like meetings, email is an essential part of how we communicate in business today, and more importantly how business gets done. Follow these 10 simple steps and not only will your emails be well-received but your reputation for being a reliable, A Player will get a boost every time you hit ‘Send.’
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