Write An Email You Can Be Proud Of 6

[Mac Computer]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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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

6 thoughts on “Write An Email You Can Be Proud Of

  1. Reply Kris May 13,2009 10:53 AM

    The most important rule is to include all of the information that the person needs. I got an email once that descibed the time, place, driving directions to the event, and what to bring, but not the date. When you write, assume that the other person has no idea what you’re talking about. You can be concise and still do this.

    For the subject line, make sure you leave the class number and section number (ex. Engl 101, sec 3, Final Paper Question) so your professor knows who you are. To be polite, use a greeting (“Hi Dr. Soandso”) and a closing (Thanks, Kris Ryan) with your full name and maybe even the section number again.

    If you are someone in an authority position (professor, advisor, etc) please be informative. With the example above, when the person didn’t leave the date and I couldn’t contact her, I emailed the professor in charge of the organization to ask her the date, and she said “oh, I’m sure it was listed in the other email.” It wasn’t. I only email people in authority positions if I can’t find the information elsewhere. I don’t want to waste their time, but they seem to think I do.

    Oh, and no emoticons for professional emails. Gosh. 🙂

  2. Reply Stefan | StudySuccessful.com May 13,2009 3:14 PM

    Number 4 is a good one. The power of email is that you don’t have to react immediatly, so don’t if you are angry, you will write thing you are going to regret!

    The most important rule for me is; don’t send [junk] other people don’t want.
    I don’t want a funny email from someone I barely now, but the same email could be funny when I get it from one of my best friends. Is always who sends what.

    Good post, especially on the keep it short part, in which I lack sometimes.

    Stefan,
    http://StudySuccessful.com

  3. Reply HazardousPaste May 14,2009 4:53 AM

    A lot of these depend on who you’re sending it to.

    For #1: I don’t think “being concise” in the sense of making emails as short as possible is a good rule of thumb to try and stick to. What if, for example, you were asking someone for help on a problem? Having been on both sides of this situation, just saying “I need help on number 5” is concise, but also a sure way to invoke a negative response from the professor or teaching assistant. You want to include as much or as little information as relevant, which may or may not be “concise” or “long.” I also disagree that e-mails are a “quick” form of communication. In large organizations, they are the only way that people can convey information to many people in an efficient manner.

    #9: Very important. Subject-less e-mails are the bane of my existence. Not only do they conceal the content of the message, it makes searching for the same email more difficult in the future.

    #10: Sometimes attachments are unavoidable. How are you going to include the contents of say… a picture in an e-mail? You really can’t do it. As an alternative, I would suggest only sending files that are cross-platform formats. PDF is a good one. Unicode (UTF-8) text files are also good (although you could just send this in an e-mail, I suppose).

    One important thing I noticed is missing- be extremely careful about “Reply” vs. “Reply All.” Some very embarrassing e-mails have reached my inbox when people inadvertently hit “Reply” and therefore sent their grade information to an entire mailing list of students instead of just the professor.

  4. Reply Nate Desmond May 14,2009 5:44 AM

    Thanks Kris, Stefan, and HazardousPaste for your informative comments! I have learned a lot simply from reading your opinions.

    – Nate

  5. Reply Vicki@collegeparentcentral May 14,2009 6:36 PM

    All good suggestions, but #3 and #5 get my vote. It’s so annoying to get an e-mail from someone who obviously hasn’t taken time to proofread what they’ve written. It’s unprofessional and shows a lack of respect for the person receiving the e-mail. Poor grammar and spelling and no capital letters and no punctuation are just plain sloppy.

    The suggestion about being careful about “Reply All” is a good one as well. Everyone doesn’t need to read all of the replies.

    Personal e-mail should be written carefully, too, but anything even remotely professional should be written very carefully.

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