At times reading email is like watching people drive without a license. There are not email traffic cops. There is no email bible or rule book. We just get on our computers and email. Often with unproductive, embarrassing or ineffective results. The following are guidelines we use and suggest to clients.
Addressing E-mail: To, Cc, and Bcc
E-mail can be sent to multiple individuals who may or may not need to take action on the message.
- To: The addresses in the 'To' are for the people you are addressing directly or from whom you expect a response.
- Cc: The addresses in the 'Cc' are for the people you are addressing indirectly and do not expect a response. Copy only those who need to be copied.
A subject line that pertains clearly to the email body will help people shift to the proper context before they read your message. The subject line should be brief like a title, does not need to be a complete sentence, and should give an indication to the contents of the message.
Example: Subject: Tuesday Staff Meeting Agenda
For time-critical messages, starting with URGENT: is a helpful. You should also 'flag' the message as high priority. Do not abuse it or eventually the recipient will no longer consider them urgent.
Example: Subject: URGENT: Tuesday Staff Meeting Agenda
If you are offering non-urgent information that requires no response from the other person, prefacing the subject line with FYI: (For Your Information) will help your user determine the nature of the message.
Example: Subject: FYI: Birthday Treats
Stationary and Backgrounds
Use of e-mail stationary or backgrounds is not recommended in business communications. Stationary rarely looks professional to the recipient.
We recommend a 10 point font be used for e-mail communications. Large fonts feel child-like and fancy fonts are difficult to read.
Messages should be brief and to the point. If the message is a request, ask specific questions that solicit a specific response. Remember, some people receive hundreds of e-mail messages a day. Clear and concise presentation of information results in efficiency and you are more likely to get a quick response.
The question here is "How personal is too personal?" or to be more specific, how do you begin your e-mail?
Dear Mr. Smith
None of the aforementioned
Each situation will need to be evaluated on its own, but in general, use the following as a guide:
- If you normally address a person as Miss/Mrs./Ms./Mr./Dr. Smith, that is how you should address them in an e-mail.
- If you normally call them by their first name, use their first name or either omit the salutation. The salutation is implied in the "To:" e-mail field.
- If you are unsure, stick to the formal salutation.
E-mail should follow the same capitalization rules as any other business correspondence.
Use of upper case letters throughout a word or phrase is discouraged. In the world of e-mail, upper case use denotes yelling.
Example: I NEED AN ANSWER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
Use of all lower case letters is common in text and instant messaging, but is not appropriate in business electronic correspondence.
Do not use excessive punctuation. Some people put multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence for added emphasis. If something is important it should be reflected in your text, not in your punctuation. If added emphasis is needed, bold, italicize or underline the font. However, do so sparingly or you will dilute the message.
Abbreviation usage is quite rampant with e-mail. In the quest to save keystrokes, users have traded clarity for confusion (unless you understand the abbreviations). It is recommended that you use abbreviations that are already common to the English language, such as 'FYI' and 'BTW'. Beyond that, you run the risk of confusing your recipient. Use of words shortened by removing vowels or substituting numbers for letters is common in text and instant messaging. These types of abbreviations are not appropriate for business correspondence.
Example: r u ready 2 go? ill c u l8tr.
Facial expressions, body gestures, and auditory variances assist the listener in determining the context of a message being relayed. E-mail does not allow the use of visual or auditory cues that are found in face-to-face or telephone conversations. Since there are no visual or auditory cues with e-mail, read your messages carefully before sending to make sure the tone of the message correctly relays your intent. Place it safe by avoiding adjectives.
The use of a descriptive signature is recommended because the originator is not always clear to the recipient. Using a signature assists the recipient with a response.
Recommended Signature Template
First Name Last Name
Web Site Address
Reply: versus Reply to All:
The 'Reply to All' button can generate unnecessary e-mails. Unless your reply pertains to everyone who received the initial e-mail, do not use the 'Reply to All' button.
Use the 'Reply' button when possible. Other recipients can be added to a reply if the message does not need to go to the entire group.
If you narrow the subject of the message in a reply consider updating the Subject in the reply.