Have you ever received an e-mail from a friend or co-worker and thought, “I wonder if he knows how that sounds?” As any writer can tell you, tone is just as important to the written word as it is to the spoken word in getting one’s point across to the reader. E-mail messages are no exception. Because of the immediate, long-lived and often informal nature of e-mail, it is important to think about how your message “sounds” to your intended audience before hitting the send button. Here are a few tips that will help you avoid some common e-mail pitfalls.
- Use the subject line. When you receive an e-mail you probably decide whether or not you are going to read it immediately based on two things: who it is from and what the subject is. Keep this in mind when you are sending messages. Make the subject descriptive enough that the reader knows what your message is regarding.
- Be brief and get to the point. An e-mail, especially in the workplace, is not a letter. While you might go into extensive detail retelling a story to an old college friend, your co-worker just needs the specifics and the action items. If you find yourself going into extensive detail to get to the point of your message, consider whether or not this might be something better suited to a phone call or face-to-face meeting.
- E-mail messages and online news posts can be copyrighted so be sure to reference such information accordingly in your e-mails to avoid copyright infringement.
- Always be diplomatic in your e-mail, particularly when you are giving constructive criticism. Criticism always seems harsher when written so think about how you would feel as the recipient of your e-mail. Consider meeting with the person face-to-face instead of sending an e-mail. Your body language and visual cues can put the recipient at ease so that they are more receptive to your comments and less defensive.
- Use sentence case (upper and lowercase text) when writing e-mails. Using all uppercase text generally implies YOU ARE SHOUTING at the recipient.
- When using humor or irony in an e-mail, keep in mind that the reader may not pick up on it without something to explicitly indicate your meaning. Using a sideways smiley face :-), or text cues such as “<grin>” or “<sarcasm on>” ensures your reader does not misinterpret the tone of your message.
- Unless it is critical to your message, avoid including background images, pictures or animation in your e-mail messages. If your reader has HTML disabled in their e-mail application, they won’t see these things anyway. It can also add to the file size of the e-mail which may be limited by the recipient’s e-mail application or the company’s server.
- Always sign your messages with at least your name if it is an internal e-mail and your name, title, the University’s name and your phone number if it is off-campus. It is nice to include your mailing address, fax number and e-mail as well so recipients can quickly add your contact information to their address book.
- Avoid the temptation to include a personal mantra or famous quote in your signature. Remember you are representing the University, both internally and externally, and while this is fine for your personal correspondence, it is not appropriate for the workplace.
- Once you hit the send button you no longer have control over your message. It can live indefinitely in someone’s inbox and be forwarded to any number of people without you ever knowing. Because you cannot take it back, be sure to write carefully, think about your audience and remember every e-mail you send it a reflection of you and the institution.
- If you find yourself on the receiving end of e-mail criticism or a poorly communicated message, resist the temptation to fire off an angry reply. This phenomenon of angry e-mail replies is called “flaming” and has no place in the workplace (or anywhere really). If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in an e-mail. Remember that your e-mail message has a life of its own once you hit the send button. If something has upset you so much that you find yourself “flaming,” step away from the keyboard and either wait until you can be more objective about the situation to reply or simply go talk to the person face-to-face. Chances are they didn’t follow e-mail etiquette and have sent you a message that you misinterpreted.
- As a generally courtesy, don’t forward chain e-mails or e-mails from unknown sources, especially if there is an executable file (.exe) attached. In addition to sending unnecessary and unwanted e-mail, you run the risk of exposing your friends and co-workers to computer viruses.
- Before you forward a virus alert to everyone on your contact list, check with the Help Desk to make sure it is not a hoax. Aside from the obvious annoyance of hoax virus warnings, some people get so used to warnings being untrue that they start ignoring every warning they see, even the legitimate ones that that come from the Help Desk. Some viruses have even started as hoax messages.