Top Five Rules for E-mail Etiquette
Follow these simple rules to look more professional in the world of e-business communication.
No matter how many times I've written on a particular subject, sometimes the opportunity presents itself for another review. Today, I'm on the e-mail etiquette soapbox.
Just before we at IT Business Edge left for Christmas last week, we received an e-mail introducing us to a new Web-based collaboration tool (administered by another company) that we would be using to elect our insurance benefits, submit claims for our flexible spending accounts, and request and keep track of paid time off, among other things. The e-mail, which came from the hosting company, also included instructions regarding logging in and selecting our insurance coverage during the open enrollment period. The instructions were a bit unwieldy and there were typos throughout, but I muddled through and thought I had done what I needed to do.
But apparently some of us didn't interpret the instructions correctly. When the representative responsible for our company's account learned that there was some confusion about the log in and enrollment process, instead of a sending a second e-mail acknowledging the confusion and trying to clear up what had been misunderstood, the account rep merely copied and pasted the same instructions, written in all capital letters (some also in bold type) into another e-mail and then highlighted various steps and segments with one of at least four different colors.
That e-mail popped into my inbox yesterday afternoon. Not only did reading it hurt my eyes, but I felt like I had been screamed at and my intelligence had been insulted all in the space of two minutes. To make matters worse, I had no idea what I had done to warrant such an e-mail. There had been no introductory paragraph to explain that some people had misunderstood the instructions or any kind of lead in to clue me in to what it was. When I discovered that several of us had received the same e-mail, I knew it was time for an etiquette review.
Here are my top 5 reminders:
- Never use all caps. In an e-mail (or a Facebook post or an instant message, even) it is equivalent to screaming at the reader.
- If bold type or italics are necessary for emphasis, use them sparingly. Otherwise they lose their meaning.
- Avoid highlighting or using odd font colors for emphasis. At best they will annoy the readers because they're hard on the eyes. At worst, your message will be lost because the readers will have skipped the highlighted segments completely.
- Adding color and writing in all caps will not make a message less confusing. When you get feedback that readers are confused, rethink your approach. If the e-mail addresses several different topics, try sending several shorter e-mails, one per topic. If the e-mail doesn't necessarily apply to everyone on a mailing list, don't send it to the entire mailing list. Send it only to those who need to see it.
- If the second attempt at resolving the issue via e-mail doesn't do it, pick up the phone. Or convey the message to managers and have them go through the process with their teams in person. Some things are easier to say than they are to write.