A communications revolution has taken place. Voices have been replaced by the sound of tapping keys, ringing phones have yielded to a cacophony of bings, bongs and computerized voices announcing, "You've got mail."
Unfortunately, many individuals and businesses use email without paying a great deal of attention to fundamental computer tips, email etiquette standards and "appropriate-use" protocols. The inevitable result: Poorly executed or the inappropriate use of email. Today, particularly in the business environment, failure to comply with accepted email etiquette practices can result in a first impression you probably would rather avoid. Think of it this way: If face-to-face first impressions are lasting, email first impressions are forever.
Whether you're brand new to the world of email or you have been communicating online for years, it's important to keep your fundamental email skills and practices current. Beginning with Part 1, I'll be sharing the latest rules, guidelines and protocols that are today known as "The New Netiquette." When this four-part series concludes, you will have at your fingertips the definitive "Mr. Modem's Guide to Online Civility and Acceptable Email Practices."
So without further ado, when writing email:
1. Be concise and to the point. In other words, be sensitive to the time required to read your email. A basic computer tip is that most recipients have other email to read and won't take the time to wade through your version of War and Peace. Reading an email is more difficult than reading printed material, therefore a lengthy email message will often be avoided or quickly skimmed by a busy recipient. As a good email Netiquette tip, when composing your email, keep repeating the following two-word mantra: "yadda-yadda." That's what the reader of your email will be thinking after the first few sentences, if you ramble.
2. Be generous with your paragraphing. When a recipient opens your email, being eyeball-to-eyeball with a screen of solid text is a sure-fire way to have your email ignored. Use paragraphs to create "white space" which will make your email aesthetically pleasing and thus more inviting to the reader.
3. When replying to an email inquiry, answer all questions asked. If you avoid answering some questions, the recipient's assumption will be that you're intentionally not responding - which may or may not be the case. If it is your intention not to answer, let the inquiring party know that you either don't know the answer, you're uncomfortable responding, or you need additional time to formulate a complete response. Ignoring a question will not make it go away and will likely result in additional email, requiring even more of your time.
4. Respond completely. A one-word "yes," "no," or "agreed" reply, without any further explanation, forces the recipient to re-read his or her initial email. (See No. 5.) A good basic computer tip is if you're responding to a question, take the time to reference the question in the Subject line and/or in the body of your reply in order to provide some meaningful context for your answer. When responding, if there is a Web site you would like to refer to, include the Web site's URL (address) or a link to it, not just the name of the site. Your objective is to close the communications loop by providing a complete, yet succinct, answer.
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5. Whenever possible, "quote back" by including the "parent" message or previous discussion. Most email programs will automatically include previous discussion (thus creating a message "thread") when you click Reply. Your response should always appear at the top, before the previous message(s). The recipient of your email should be able to read your reply, then scroll down through the previous discussion if he or she needs additional context. Email etiquette tip: If the email you are responding to is a lengthy one, cut and paste or delete irrelevant portions so your reply is both focused and responsive.
6. Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is particularly important in business communication. Use a spell-check or grammar-check program, and take the time to proofread your email before sending. Email has a casual ambiance associated with it, but don't be so casual that you become a casualty. Business communication is still business communication whether by letter, fax or email. A basic computer tip is that your email will likely be saved by recipients and possibly shared with others. It's not a cyber felony if you don't spell everything correctly, but lasting impressions are formed by email. Take the time to make sure your online communication represents you in a way that you would like to be represented.
7. Exercise tolerance for others. The people you encounter online come from different backgrounds and cultures and have varying degrees of education. For many, English may not be their native language. Don't correct the grammar, spelling or punctuation of others. No matter how well intentioned your efforts, nobody appreciates a know-it-all.
8. Personalize your communication. Particularly in customer service applications, always include a salutation that includes the recipient's name, and be sure to sign each email. Even if you're working in a department of a large organization, it is good email etiquette to avoid signing a message, "Department of Education," or "Customer Service Department." Include your name, first and last, as the sender. Don't attempt to hide behind anonymity. Your email represents your organization and you are accountable for your words.
9. Use templates for frequent responses. Pre-written email messages or "stationery" are fine if you repeatedly answer the same or similar questions. But be sure to personalize your "canned" responses by including the recipient's name in the salutation, or modify the message slightly to personalize it in another manner.
10. As a basic computer tip, respond promptly. Responding within 24 hours or by the end of the next business day is the acceptable standard. If additional time is required, acknowledge receipt of an email and advise the sender that a follow-up response will be forthcoming within 24-hours or whatever time is appropriate. Don't miss any self-imposed deadlines. If you promise a response within 24 hours, 36 hours is not acceptable.
Many more email Netiquette basic computer tips are just a mouse-click away in Part 2 of this series. For weekly Internet, email and fundamental computer tips, subscribe today to Mr. Modem's weekly newsletter!