18 suggestions on email etiquette. My favorites (abridged, with my comments below):
Keep messages brief and to the point. Make your most important point first, then provide detail if necessary. Make it clear at the beginning of the message why you are writing… if you send long messages, it is much less likely that the person will act on what you have sent or respond to it.
Rambling messages drive me crazy. If you want to see any action out of your note, you need to keep it brief, outline and highlight the expected or requested action, any timelines, etc. Bullets and numbers are your friend, paragraphs and rhetoric are not.
Be mindful of your tone. Unlike face-to-face meetings or even phone calls, those who read your e-mail messages don’t have the benefit of your pitch, tone, inflection, or other non-verbal cues. As a result, you need to be careful about your tone. Sarcasm is especially dangerous. If something gets “lost in translation,” you risk offending the other party. The more matter-of-fact you can be, the better.
Amen! Re-reading and assuming the person will take it the worst possible way helps a lot too. I tend to use emoticons (smileys, etc.) to help add some “visual” cues… this is one place where some may disagree and feel that “smileys” make you look like an amateur, but anything that helps convey your tone, if done sparingly, is a benefit.
Don’t use e-mail to criticize others. E-mail is a terrific way to commend someone or praise them. It is not an appropriate medium for criticism… These kinds of conversations are usually better handled face-to-face or, if necessary, over the phone. Especially, don’t use e-mail to criticize a third party. E-mail messages live forever. They are easily forwarded. You can create a firestorm of conflict if you are not careful. Trust me, I’ve done it myself more than once.
Underscore this: email messages live forever, and what’s more, there’s a solid chance if you’re criticizing someone to a third party, that message will make its way to the person you least want to read it. It’s unprofessional, and it breaks mom’s first rule: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Don’t overuse “reply to all.” … This, of course, just adds more clutter to everyone’s already unwieldily inbox. Your default response should be to reply only to the sender. Before you reply to everyone, make sure that everyone needs to know.
This happens all the time. My favorite: Those who Reply to All to remind offenders not to Reply to All. Duh!
Don’t “copy up” as a means of coercion. It’s one thing to copy someone’s boss as a courtesy. I do this whenever I am making an assignment to someone who is not a direct report… You may be tempted to do this when you don’t get a response to an earlier request. But I would suggest that you will be better served to pick up the phone and call the person.
This will backfire on you 99 times out of 100, and makes you look like a fool or a tattletale to the person’s boss. Never choose the passive-aggressive route if you want to work with that person again.
Don’t overuse the “high priority” flag. Most e-mail programs allow you to set the priority of the message. “High priority” should be reserved for messages that are truly urgent…
No brainier, but some people don’t get this one. Same as “Reply to All”
Use a signature with your contact information. This is a courtesy for those receiving your messages. It also cuts down on e-mail messages, since people don’t have to send a second or third e-mail asking for your phone number or mailing address.
So easy to do, but so many don’t get this, especially on personal email accounts. Make it easy to communicate with you!
Provide “if-then” options. This is another tip I picked up from Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week. He says to provide options to avoid the back and forth of single option messages. For example, “If you have completed the assignment, then please confirm that via e-mail. If not, then please estimate when you expect to finish.” Or, “I can meet at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. Will one of those times work? If not, would you please reply with three times that would work for you?”
Brilliant, and very indicative of the many things that make The 4-Hour Work Week my top recommendation for anyone I’ve talked to recently. Thinking ahead a few steps takes less of your recipient’s time, and yours too.
Use your spell-checker.
Why you wouldn’t do this is way beyond me. See also, the final item:
Re-read your e-mail before you send it. I try to do this with every single message. My fingers have difficulty keeping up with my brain. It is not unusual for me to drop a word or two as I am racing to transcribe a thought. Therefore, it’s a good idea to re-read your messages and make sure that you are communicating clearly and observing good e-mail etiquette.
Actually, the spell-checker usually helps me do this, as there’s almost always something I’ve transposed in hammering out a response. My normal email routine is this: Outline, write, review to cut out unnecessary items, format for emphasis and action, review, spellcheck, send. Has saved my hide more times that I care to admit, but it works.
Be sure to read the whole post, plus comments, on this one. Every emailer will learn something helpful.