It's a Fax: An Old Platform Still Adds Value

Lora Bentley
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Top Five Rules for E-mail Etiquette

Follow these simple rules to look more professional in the world of e-business communication.

Last month, when sheer exasperation prompted me to share the disaster of an e-mail my colleagues and I had received from a new service provider, I had no idea it would strike such a chord. For the last few weeks, readers have been chiming in-some to agree with me, some to chastise me for wasting their time and others to add their e-mail etiquette pet peeves to my list.


Since the latter group raised a few issues that I hadn't considered, I thought I'd share. Please don't hesitate to add your two cents.


First, one anonymous reader bemoaned the e-mail with the endless string of replies. If you find yourself scrolling through more than five replies to get to the original message before you can add your own thoughts, this reader says, e-mail is probably not the appropriate medium for this particular conversation.


But another reader, who identifies himself only as "Steven," points out that the string of replies may be exactly what you want to preserve in certain industries. "It's a nice way of keeping the relevant information all in one place," he said. "I need the audit trail of an e-mail message."


Then there's the dreaded inadvertent click on "Reply All" when you meant to reply to only a select few on the mailing list. (I actually did consider this, but more than one reader brought it up in the comments, so it warrants mention again here.) This gaffe opens more cans of worms than one might think, especially if you work in an industry where confidentiality is at a premium: health care information, financial services, legal services or any number of counseling professions.


One wrong click means everyone on your list knows more of one client's business than anyone ever wanted or needed to know. So readers suggested avoiding the use of "reply all" altogether. Hide the button, if that's possible in your e-mail program. If it's not there, you can't hit it by accident. But when that's not practical or possible, just be vigilant about proofreading your messages-including the To:, CC: and BCC: fields-before sending them on their way.


In the same vein, be wary of the autofill feature that many programs offer. That's the feature that fills in the rest of the recipient's address after you type the first few letters. When your office is like ours at IT Business Edge-we have more than one Mike; two people named Travis; Lori, Loraine and Lora; Amy and Amanda; and then Jon, John, John and Johanna, among other similar names-autofill can betray you in a hurry.


Finally, two readers pointed out that highlighting and bold fonts were not only hard to read in the e-mail program on a computer, more often than not they do not translate at all if the recipients are reading e-mail on their smartphones or other mobile devices. So you would have spent the extra time to bold and highlight for no reason.


And mobile is very quickly becoming the computing mechanism of choice. One quarter of respondents to a recent ITBE survey indicated they don't currently have a smartphone, but only 3 percent said they won't have one in a year. As such, I'd imagine that such things as highlighting will become obsolete-at least in e-mail.

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