You’d think adults wouldn’t need email etiquette lessons, right? It’s okay. Don’t judge too harshly, whether it’s yourself or someone else. It’s easy to lose sight of the basics when we’re in a hurry. In fact, it’s so easy, we here at All Things Writing hold entire workshops on email etiquette. We’ve discovered they are pretty popular.
To give you a taste of the workshop, we present to you some of our best tips for writing emails that get readers acting, not reacting. Ready? Let’s go.
Change the subject line when the topic has changed.
- It’s easier for people to follow a conversation when they know what the topic is.
- It’s also easier to use the search function to locate a particular email when the subject is specific, for example, “September 16 Networking meeting.”
CC only those who need to know.
- Ever get one of those emails and ask, “Why am I on this list?” Right. Think first before you copy.
Don’t hit “reply all” if your message is only appropriate for the sender.
- Don’t you love being on a list with sixteen other people and seeing “thanks” from those sixteen people, all as separate emails?
Don’t pose complex questions that require meetings, phone calls or face time and expect a complete answer via email.
- Some things cannot be achieved on email.
- The telephone is still relevant.
Keep it polite.
- This is especially important if you’re upset.
- It’s hard sometimes, but don’t hit “send” until you’ve cooled off.
- Take time out. Breathe. Then revise your email before you send.
Use soft words.
- It’s easy to come off as harsh when you use words like “you must” or “you can’t.” Avoid these, when possible.
- Give a good reason that will make the reader want to act: “So we can process your request quickly, please send the paperwork by Thursday.” (Note the emphasis on helping.)
- “Sorry” isn’t always an apology: “I’m sorry, but taking a Friday off before a Monday goes against policy.”
Don’t assume people know what acronyms stand for.
- If you use lesser-known acronyms, you risk confusing people.
- Readers who don’t know what the acronyms mean might think everyone else knows and will be afraid to ask.
Try to answer emails within 24 hours, at least to say, “I will get back to you.”
- That’s good customer service and communication.
If you are going to be away for longer than 24 hours, use auto reply.
- Be specific in the message: “I am out of the office from September 16, 2015 and will be returning September 21, 2015.”
- If you put “Out from Sept. 16 to Sept. 21” the recipient won’t know if you’re actually returning on the 21st or 22nd.
Verify you are sending email to the right person.
- There’s nothing worse than realizing you accidentally sent a personal email to a client.
- If you are not sure you are writing to the right person, you can say, “If you are not the right person, it would be great if you could let me know who is.”
Spell check, grammar check and edit.
- If you don’t, it looks like you don’t care.
- If you don’t, you look unprofessional.
- There’s nothing wrong with getting a second pair of eyes on something.
The interesting thing is, many of these rules apply to more than just email. So once you get in the habit of practicing email etiquette, it’s easier to clean up other forms of writing and communicating.
For more information on our workshops and/or to arrange one for your organization, send us an email. And don’t worry. Now you know how to make sure it’s effective.
All Things Writing is a full-service content development and content marketing company on a mission to help clients shine online and in print. Our clients are from the private, government and nonprofit sectors.