E-mail Etiquette

If you're like most people, you probably stay in touch with your friends and family through e-mail more often than the old-fashioned phone call. Because e-mail has become such a mainstream way of communication, too many people use it without keeping manners in mind.

E-mail Rights and Wrongs

There are some unique idiosyncrasies that you need to keep in mind when typing an e-mail. These include:

  • Do not type in ALL CAPS. People construe that as you're shouting at them—definitely not polite behavior.

  • Do not type all lowercase, either. This is too casual, especially if you're sending a business e-mail.

  • Avoid using emoticons in a business e-mail. Again, too casual.

  • Do not neglect to address someone as Mr. or Ms. the first time you contact him or her by e-mail.

  • Keep good spelling and grammar in mind when typing.

In Place of Personal Communication

With so many people logged onto the Internet both day and night, it would seem logical that you could replace nearly all your personal communication with e-mails. In a pinch that's fine, but if your way of communicating has become e-mails only, then you need to take a step back and examine how you're using e-mail to deal with others—and how that use may have affected your personal relationships.

One of the problems with only communicating through e-mail, besides the lack of the personal touch, is that things can easily become misconstrued. What may sound funny or joking in a one-on-one voice conversation can come across as snotty and standoffish in an e-mail. If you've noticed that people haven't been responding to your communications in a positive light, it might be time to log off and start meeting folks face to face again. E-mail should help you maintain relationships with others, not destroy them.

Next time you're tempted to send a “What's up?” e-mail to your grandmother or girlfriend, pick up the phone instead. Sometimes all you need in this modern world is a small dose of good old-fashioned communication.

If you're doing most of your communicating via e-mail or instant message—including with business colleagues—you should be careful about how you're coming across. Literally. When choosing your e-mail or instant message moniker, you don't want to use a name that others will find offensive or that will reflect poorly on you.

Proofing and Grammar Police

Like any document you write on your computer, you should always proofread, spell check and make sure your grammar is up to snuff before sending an e-mail. This is especially critical if you use e-mail as a way of doing business at school or at work.

Sending a poorly crafted e-mail to someone says, “I don't care enough about you to make sure I've written something sensible to you.” That's not exactly the message you want to send to people.

If you don't have the time to run a spell check, then you really don't have the time to be sending an e-mail. Log off and deal with those messages later, when you have the appropriate amount of time to give them the attention they need and deserve.

Computer spell check programs aren't always 100 percent perfect. Proofreading an e-mail after you've spell checked it is always a must and will allow you to pick up on any mistakes that the spell check program may have missed.

Thinking About Forwards

When you receive an e-mail that you think is interesting, it's so easy to simply forward it along to others. With the click of a mouse key and your well-stocked e-mail address book, soon enough that interesting message will be making its way along to other people's mailboxes.

Before the spirit moves you to share messages in this way, think about what you're forwarding and to whom. First, it could be considered a breach of copyright law (if not civil behavior) to forward someone's message without his permission, especially if there is a disclaimer at the bottom of the e-mail that prohibits you from forwarding it. Also, if you've received a message in secrecy and you end up sending that confidential message to the wrong person, what kind of bind have you put that person and yourself in?

Second, think about all of the forwarded messages that you receive. Do you always enjoy and appreciate them? Or do you roll your eyes and go for “delete” whenever you see an e-mail with “FW:” in the subject line? Think about how you feel when others overwhelm your e-mail box with unsolicited forwarded messages before you pass the next e-mail along.

The Internet has helped to fuel the spread of urban legends. If you receive an e-mail about a story that leaves you skeptical, dump it in the trash. Don't help to perpetuate any urban legends by forwarding them along.

The Long and Short of Long Lists

One of the neatest inventions on e-mail is the notion of the “bcc” or the blind carbon copy. This nifty little tool lets you send an e-mail to a large number of people without them seeing exactly whom you're sending the message to, and without having hundreds of other e-mail addresses pop up on the top of the e-mail. The latter requires a lot of scrolling down, which can be annoying to the time-starved recipient of your e-mail.

Whenever you have to send an e-mail to a long list of people, use “bcc” for the aforementioned reasons, along with this one: if one of the recipients decides to respond to your e-mail by hitting “reply to all” instead of just “reply,” that seemingly personal message won't get bounced back to all the other people you'd originally e-mailed. There's nothing like a mistakenly sent “reply to all” message to get on people's nerves.

Acting Appropriately at Work

Many companies these days have some kind of spy ware on their company computers to track their employees' use of the Internet, including e-mail. If you know that your employer frowns on the personal use of e-mail at work, don't do it. It's that simple. If you think to yourself, “Oh, this one time won't hurt anyone,” then you're being disrespectful of your company's policy, and you could be risking your job.

If personal e-mails are allowed at work, don't overwhelm your colleagues with forwards of cutesy jokes or urban legends. You're at your job to work, not to share funny messages. Even though it's really easy just to forward an e-mail to a friend, you should save such cavalier use of your e-mail for your personal use at home.

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