10 Rules of Email

10 Rules of Email

Email etiquette is at the top of most people’s list (of those who use it, and that includes almost everyone) of Pet Peeves. While we can’t expect others to listen to our instruction about how to use it properly, as an etiquette expert, I am stating 10 simple facts. There are many more, but we’ll start here.

Once upon a time, business correspondence had very precise rules. Any business person knew that the date was typed below the address, paragraphs were indented or flush-left, depending upon fashion and every letter had both a salutation and a complimentary close.

Today, much of our business is conducted by electronic mail, and the formal letter has nearly gone the way of the quill. Here’s our top-ten list of proper etiquette for e-mail.

1) Always include a subject, even when replying to a message that arrived without one. Your readers must know why you’re writing. Omit the subject and your e-mail may be ignored. Make sure your subject reflects what is in the email.

2) Know who’s receiving your message. Don’t “Reply All” if you don’t know who’s included, or you might be corresponding with someone you shouldn’t. We know of an e-mail invitation to a retirement party that included the company’s CEO. Everyone who responded chose to reply to all. After the 100th response cluttered his e-mail box, the CEO had the party’s sponsor fired. Which brings us to our next rule…

3) DON’T use business e-mail for personal or social matters. It’s the same as stealing and considered very bad form. If you must e-mail friends, obtain a personal account. By law, all messages are considered property of the corporation, and you don’t know who might be reading them. By the same token…

4) If you wouldn’t say it in the middle of Main Street, don’t write it in an e-mail message. Lawyers can now demand e-mail files during discovery, especially in employment lawsuits. One manager lost his job and reputation when his colorful e-mail describing a female employee became evidence in a sexual harassment suit.

5) Double-check before you hit “send.” Run a spell-checker, and read the message over for grammar and clarity. Electronic mail is the business letter of the 90s, and sloppy correspondence reflects badly on you and your company.

6) Don’t be a junk e-mailer. Never send messages to broadcast lists of recipients. Many businesses made more enemies than customers by sending unsolicited e-mail advertisements across the Internet. Other don’ts: forwarding chain letters and sending test letters to anyone who hasn’t given their permission.

7) Know your e-mail program, and your recipients’. Some programs can’t handle attachments, others may garble them. Your readers can’t read the attachment unless they have equivalent software. It’s always safer to include everything in the body of the message. Even when you know attachments will work, be sure to list the program that created them. “This attachment was written in MS Word 6.0” will save your readers a lot of time and trouble.

8) Date and “sign” all your correspondence. Yes, that information is included in the header of your message, but that doesn’t mean it will appear on a print-out .

9) Don’t confuse matters by using more than one medium. If you’re sending e-mail, don’t fax or US Mail the same document, unless you say so in the e-mail.

10) Use common sense in forwarding messages. Some people return the original e-mail with their reply. That practice results in chains of eight or ten messages, in reverse chronological order: Confusing AND time consuming. Also, refrain from copying the recipient’s boss, your boss, the boss’s boss and so on unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your correspondent may be less candid doing electronic business with you if all will be revealed publicly to upper management.