Despite the fact that millions of people send emails every day, for both personal and business reasons, it’s never ceased to amaze me how many people still don’t know the basic principles for email etiquette.
When it comes to business emails, which most of us send on a daily basis, the correct email behaviour can make all the difference between creating a positive impression of your company, or a negative one. And don’t underestimate the damage a negative impression can do.
Why Is Email Technique Important?
The very first thing to remember is that email is a point of contact between you and the recipient, whether they’re customers or service providers. Good email etiquette represents professionalism. And professionalism is an impression that you want to convey.
If you’re dealing with customers, email professionalism will create the perception of trust and authority, which in turn, will convince more people to do business with you.
If, on the other hand, you’re sending emails as a customer, remember that the more professionally you deal with the recipient of your mail, and the issues you’re covering it, the more positive and helpful your response is likely to be.
Taking care with the way you word your emails also allows you to improve your efficiency. Convey your information or questions simply, clearly and concisely, and you’ll reduce the amount of back and forth emailing that might otherwise be necessary to clarify what you’re asking or saying.
Tips For Writing Effective Emails
Below, you’ll find a list of handy email tips and tricks to help you make your emails as effective, efficient and professional as possible. Read through them, and make a mental note of the ones where you know you’re not doing as well as you could.
Improve your email communication, and you might be surprised at what else will improve.
Be Succinct: Keep your emails short and to the point, (without being abrupt), and recipients will find them easier to read, and easier to understand.
Provide the Necessary Information: Always provide the information that’s required. If you’re replying to a client, answer the questions that they asked. If you’re asking questions, make sure that it’s clear what kind of information you’re looking for.
Spell Check Your Mails: Spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes in your mail not only make it look unprofessional, but they can cause confusion and misunderstanding as well. Make sure the contents of your mail is error-free, before you send it.
Make Emails Personal: Wherever possible, personalise your emails as much as possible. If you know the name of the person you’re sending it too, include their name as part of the salutation, and always ensure that the content of the email is personalised too, if possible.
Rapid Response: when somebody sends you an email, the expectation is that they’ll receive a quick response. It’s not always possible of course, but barring exceptional circumstances, business emails should be replied to on the same day that they’re received, or at most, within 24 hours of receipt.
Attachment Guidelines: When sending emails, you should carefully consider the appropriateness of sending attachments. Attachments should only be sent if absolutely necessary, and preferably only when requested. Attachments should always be relevant, and should be as small as possible, to save time and bandwidth for the person downloading them.
Email Layout: Many people find it more difficult to read information on a screen than they would if the same information was on a piece of paper. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to make your email easy to read. Keep your paragraphs short and to the point, leave lines between them, and make use of numbers or bullet points where appropriate to indicate separate questions or points.
DON’T USE CAPS: I’m often surprised by how many people either don’t know this, or are just plain rude. Ever since the start of online communications, it’s been a commonly accepted convention that TYPING IN CAPITALS is the same as shouting. Unless you want to really annoy or offend the recipient of your email, leave your Caps Lock off.
Quoting The Original: Some people feel that there’s no need to include the contents of previous mails when replying to a mail, but I think it’s actually a good idea. In most email programs, using the “reply” button will include the contents of the mail you’re replying to underneath your reply. This helps the recipient keep in mind everything that’s been discussed in the mail (or series of mails), and also provides a record of the conversation which can be useful for later reference.
Smiley’s & Abbreviations: Popular online abbreviations, like AFAIK (as far as I know), and emoticons or smiley faces are not usually appropriate for business emails. Unless you know the person well, and know that they’ll understand what you’re trying to convey, it’s better to avoid them to prevent confusion and misunderstandings.
Fonts & Formats: In order for somebody to see a font that you’ve used in your email, they’ll need to already have that font installed on their computer. If you use fonts or colours or unusual formatting, there is a good chance that your recipient won’t see the mail as you intend it to be seen. Rather stick to the standard font and formatting, to ensure your recipient will be able to read it correctly.
Requesting Read Receipts: Like using all caps, although possibly not as bad, requesting read receipts for your mails is another way of annoying the people you’re mailing. If you need confirmation that a mail has been received, ask for it in the email. Since read receipts can be ignored, there’s not much point to asking for them anyway.
Email Subjects: The subject line of your email should clearly convey what the contents of the email is about. Keep them as specific as possible, so the recipient knows what to expect. If you’ve been asked for specific information for example, your subject line could read “Requested Information About ABC.”
Gender-Specific Language: When in doubt, or when writing generalised information that could apply to anybody, try and keep your language gender neutral. This one isn’t a big deal, but could inadvertently cause offence or confusion. If uncertain, rather err on the side of caution.
Do A Final Check: The last step in sending an email should be a final check. Proof-read your email and check it for mistakes, clarity and ambiguity before you send it. This not only cuts down on mistakes, but will reduce the number of times mail goes back and forth, making it more efficient. Also check your recipients before you send, and make sure it’s going to the right person, and only the people who you want to receive it. Many an embarrassing moment has been caused by accidentally sending a email to the wrong person.
Don’t Send Recall Messages: This one is related to the suggestion above. While it is possible in some cases to request a message recall, it doesn’t always work. For a start, both sender and recipient need to be using Outlook ’97 or newer as their email programs. For another thing, there’s a good chance that it’ll already have been read.
It’s far better to read through your mail carefully, think about what you’ve said and would like to say, and check your recipients before sending it the first time.
If you’re sending a mail which is strongly worded, or which you wrote while angry or upset, the best thing to do is leave it overnight, and then recheck your mail the next day. Chances are, you might want to reword some of it.
Be Honest: If you miss out on those final guidelines, and you do send a mail with mistakes, or in which you said things you now regret, be honest about it. Send an apology, admit any mistake, and then take it from there.
Maintain Your Professional Relationships
In the digital age, where so many of our interactions are carried out through the medium of email, it’s always important to maintain a good, professional working relationship with your clients and your service providers alike.
Adhering to these simple tips for email etiquette will ensure that the image you present of yourself via email will always be an efficient and professional one.