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Email Etiquette: How to Write it Right

Email Etiquette: How to Write it Right

Nealeigh Mitchell | Inside Tech

June 17, 2010

If you’ve ever begged IT to stop a sent email in its tracks, or wasted an entire morning sifting through an unruly inbox, it might just be time for an email refresher course.

In this age of BlackBerry-toting professionals connected by email around globe, it’s crucial to abide by the written (and unwritten) rules of email communications. You don’t want to embarrass yourself, do you?

Don’t send another message without this checklist in mind.

Fit for Email?

Email’s speed and effectiveness sure beats an answering machine or faulty fax. But is it the best way to deliver your message? Are you sending a short project update? Or are you responding to a message riddled with questions and clarification requests? Picking up the phone or chatting face to face could cut down on on time-wasting (and highly unproductive) back-and-forth prattle, which saves everyone time and energy. Remember, one size doesn’t fit all, so make sure an email is the correct mode of communication.

Made for Mass?

Resist the knee-jerk reaction to hit "Reply All,” and instead, take a moment to scan over the distribution list and CCs. With a little consideration, you won’t bombard the uninvolved with irrelevant info (see Break the Chain). Keeping the list down to the critical few also protects privacy. Clients aren’t keen on having personal email addresses advertised to strangers, so a BCC will keep all parties protected. Finally, don’t use “To” as a weapon. CC’ing your boss to show you’re working late or BCC’ing your coworker over office drama is inappropriate and potentially damaging.

Spice Up the Subject Line

Forty characters and a few seconds. That’s all you get to stand out in an overcrowded inbox. In the daily battle of man vs. message, the strongest emails survive by reeling in the reader with a pertinent subject line. So how do you make sure yours won’t get buried in the pile? Not by slapping on “URGENT! READ NOW!” Cut to the chase with a simple comment or action. Better yet, if you can convey the email’s message in the subject line, do it!

Keep It Concise

If your email gives the scroll wheel a workout, cut it down. Now is not the time to prove your literary chops. Crisp, simplistic language gives your reader the luxury of skimming and scanning for relevant information. Plus, the briefer the message, the likelier you’ll get an immediate response. Bullet points and patches of white space — instead of a 10-line block of text — are easier on the eyes and help organize your message. Finally (or firstly), hook your reader with the opening line — she may not read on, so make sure it’s the meat of the message.

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