Most college students write more at least ten emails a day. With that many messages it is easy to forget that each individual email is building or destroying your reputation. Using correct etiquette is just as important in emails as in any other communication medium. Here, I will explain ten ways to improve your email writing today.
- Be Concise – Emails are a form of quick communication. They should be longer than Twitter (140 characters) but shorter than a “snail mail” letter (1-2 pages). The optimal length of an email is two sentences to three paragraphs. Remember, your reader will be grateful for the time you save by writing short emails. If possible, use lists in your emails. Information in a list format is easier to understand than information in paragraph format.
- Reply Quickly – I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated by slow replies. Many times, I have sent time-sensitive emails, only to receive the reply after it is too late to matter. When you reply quickly, you set yourself apart from the crowd and appear more professional. Make it your habit to try to reply as soon as you receive a email because if you wait you are likely to forget about it.
- Be Professional – Avoid using txt text message or chat acronyms. Many people will not even understand what you are trying to say, and those who do understand will still think less of your writing ability. NEVER WRITE IN ALL CAPS! Writing in all capitals makes you look like you are shouting or angry. On the other hand, writing in all lowercase makes your writing look informal. Follow correct capitalization standards.
- Don’t Reply in Anger – If you are upset at someone, do not reply right away. If you reply in anger, you will often say something rude, only to regret it later. Be very careful when email conversations start heating up. If you are attacked personally, it is normally best to not respond directly to the attack. Instead, figure out what the attacker is angry about and work to find a solution to the problem. When someone else degrades themselves by giving way to anger, it is an excellent opportunity to show that you are different by replying in a kind, cool-headed way.
- Use Proper Grammar and Spelling – Do you want to look like a ten-year-old? If not, stop using incorrect grammar. Remove the fragments; add the periods, and place comas correctly. Most email programs have a spell checker. News Flash: Spell checker is not there for show! If your email program has a spell checker, use it! Forming your email with correct grammar and spelling is polite to the reader.
- Use BCC Correctly – If you are sending to a group, you must decide whether to use blind carbon copy (BCC) or courtesy copy (CC). When sending to a group of friends, CC is probably your best option because it shows trust. However, if you are sending a message to a group of people who probably do not know each other, use BCC to protect their individual email addresses. In addition, BCC should be used in potentially difficult situations. For example, a professor sending emails to failing students should use BCC not CC. If he used CC, all the other failing students would know who else was failing.
- Understand the Privacy Level – Remember that email is not private. You never know who will see your email. It can be forwarded to any number of friends. Treat email like a postcard. While it is unlikely that anyone else will read your postcard, it is still possible. Because of this, one badly-written, or angry email could alienate a lot of friends if it got forwarded around.
- Never Forward Chain Mail – One of the most annoying habits a friend can have is that of always forwarding junk mail. We all know at least one person who is a constant annoyance by forwarding lots of time wasting junk mail. Do not be that person! Little jokes, funny articles, and entertaining pictures should not be forwarded! Not only does it waste people’s time, but those types of emails often contain computer viruses and spyware. When you send it, you are unintentionally endangering your friend’s computers!
- Write a Good Subject Line – The subject line should tell the reader exactly what your email is about. Subject lines such as “Important! Read Immediately!” or “Quick Question” simply are not descriptive enough. The reader has no idea what the email is about until he opens it! Instead, use a subject line such as, “Science Class Today is Cancelled!” or “When is History Class?”. By using a good subject line you show respect of your reader’s time and attention and, therefore, gain his respect in return.
- Avoid Attachments – If at all possible, avoid sending attachments. They take time for the reader to download; they can be difficult for mobile device users, and they use important space on the reader’s computer. Therefore, try to fit the information into your email body instead. If that is impossible, make sure to send a quick summary of the content with the attachment so your reader can decide for himself whether or not he wants to open the attachment.
Obviously, there are many more ways to improve your email etiquette. What do you think is the most important etiquette rule?
Picture by Arbron