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Email Etiquette: How to Write It Right

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 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 ten-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.

Dot Those I’s
No matter how brilliant your attached proposal, hit “send” without pausing for grammar and you’re likely to kill you’re credibility. Sure, computer spell checks will catch glaring mistakes but some are bound to fly under the radar. Sloppy speech can be avoided if you take the time to double check your work. Read for accuracy of names, titles, dates and figures. Also, ease up on the jargon if your intended recipients aren’t all in the industry. A flurry of clarification emails clogs inboxes.

Break the Chain
Don’t assume the recipients have been keeping up with the conversation and know exactly what your simple “Yes, we’ll go with that option” refers to—especially when a thread has started to stray from the subject at hand. If it makes sense, cut and paste the last pertinent point and go from there.

Publicly Private
Don’t assume your scandalous message to a coworker will remain an A-B conversation. Once you log on to a shared system, privacy, and confidentiality are nonexistent. Make sure your messages are suitable, appropriate, and legal. A seemingly harmless rant to a colleague could end up as ammo down the road. An IT worker can dig up the digital graveyard with a click of the mouse. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you were to write your message on a postcard, would you be OK with it making the office rounds? If not, don’t send it.

Add Attachments
Man, the execs could not have asked for a more diligent associate. You’ve crafted a perfect pitch and even referred to the key points in a ten-page Word attachment. The Excel worksheet is color-coded for quick reference and the two PowerPoint presentation amp up the visual! Promotion time! And sent! Without attachments! It’s easy to get distracted, but it’s just as easy to avoid this common email blunder: each and every time you refer to a document, immediately attach it to the email. You can’t afford to be complacent—empty emails leave recipients in the dark and you in the doghouse.

Savvy Sign Off
Leave a lasting impression by signing off with a signature that includes your job title and alternate contact details. Unless you want to be woken up at midnight by an international call or pinged in a meeting, keep the personal info to yourself. You can punch it up with a bit of personality but less is more. Bowing out with a hot pink inspirational quote and a link to your Facebook page might rub people the wrong way. Don’t take that chance. Go out with a professional bang!

By Nealeigh Mitchell for Excelle