For members of the "older generation," like me, email is still the preferred communication conduit over the Internet. It trumps instant messaging (IM), forums, and social media platforms. Yet, there are many basic rules of email etiquette that are ignored (or unknown) by us geezers, as well as members of the digital generation.
A couple of recent incidents are at the origin of this newsletter, one professional and the other personal. So, in order to improve the overall quality of email communication, here are a few tips to remember when sending email:
Use complete sentences. I suspect this is why the younger generation doesn't like email. It's much easier to get away with "ts psbl 4 u 2 me 2nite" (or whatever it looks like now) in IM than it is in email. Emails require complete sentences, which makes them longer and more difficult to write.
Include punctuation. Use periods, capitals, commas, and other punctuation marks where appropriate. It's very difficult for a reader to decipher your message when it is just one big paragraph, with no sentences to speak of.
Use paragraphs. In proper writing, paragraphs are used to separate different ideas. It is no different in email. It makes it easier to read and understand your message.
Don't answer when you are upset: Sometimes you will receive a message that makes you quite upset. Instead of replying immediately, take some time to cool down and then compose your message. You will not regret it.
DON'T YELL! Writing words in all capital letters is tantamount to YELLING and is considered VERY RUDE. If you want to emphasize specific portions of your message, use the bold or italics formatting options of your email program or use *asterisks* or _underscores_ to add emphasis. It is much better form and reduces the probability that your message will be misinterpreted.
Reply to the right people: When you reply to a message, don't send a copy to every person that received the original message. Especially if your reply simply says: "I agree." In some cases, it might be warranted to do so, but most of the time it isn't. Pay especially close attention to emails you send to a mailing list.
Don't forward chain letters: A chain letter is one that says "Please send this to 21 of your best friends. By tomorrow, you will only have 3 best friends left." The reasons for this are many. For one thing, it is very costly in terms of resources. If you receive such a message and send it to 21 people, who send it to another 21 that's more than 400 messages. If you believe the theory of six degrees of separation, by the time the sixth degree is reached, you have already generated 85,766,121 messages! Furthermore, many of messages passed along like this are actually hoaxes. Finally, it's fairly easy to embed a virus in email messages and infect a computer if you or the person who receives the message doesn't use a good virus scanner.
Hide email addresses: If you still feel the need to forward chain letters or jokes, then take the time to hide the email addresses of your recipients. You can do so by using the "Bcc:" line to enter the addresses instead of using the "To:" line. Why is this important? Because if you forward it, then your friends might do it too. So that's 85 million email addresses in the wild. If a spammer get a hold of that list, imagine the possibilities! This is a good way to make yourself and others become the target of spammers.
The face-to-face test: once something is sent, you have no control over what happens afterwards. So before sending it, ask yourself: would I say this face-to-face? If so, then send it, if not, reconsider.
Pick up your phone: email is not the proper medium to conduct conversations. Actually, for that, IM is better. If you are trying to have a conversation, especially if it is an important one, drop the email and the computer: pick up the phone and call.
Email is still a great communication tool, but it isn't adequate in all situations. Yet, even when it is the proper tool to use, doing so improperly can cause more harm than good. Hopefully, these few tips will help reduce that risk.
© 2009 Laurent Duperval, All rights reserved