E-mail 101: The Dos and Donts


    Even though many people have been writing e-mails for a few years now, you would be amazed at some of the pure gibberish that arrives in my e-mailbox on a regular basis.

    Many people seem to think that because they aren't dealingdirectly with another person (or as directly as they wouldbe face-to-face or by telephone), all forms of civility andbasic respect for the other person (i. e. the recipient),and the English language, can go out the proverbial window.

    Not true! Writing e-mails is still communicating. Both therecipient and the language still deserve your respect.

    The following Dos and Don'ts of writing e-mails have beenadapted from my eBook entitled "Instant Home Writing Kit".The first version of these appeared in another one of mybooks "Internet Basics without fear!" (2000).


    DO... Use A Descriptive Subject Line

    There is nothing more annoying than receiving e-mails inyour e-Inbox with no heading, or a heading that does notexplain what the contents of the message is all about.

    Tip: I even revise the Subject Line when I am sending aReply, to reflect the essence of my response. This isespecially useful if it's one of those e-mails thattravels back and forth 3 or 4 times. Often, there islittle relationship between the point of the firstmessage and the later ones. So, try revising theSubject Line slightly each time to reflect the contentof the current reply.

    DO... Use Opening And Closing Salutations

    Some people have forgotten that e-mail is interpersonalcommunication between human beings. Basic civility stillapplies.

    There is nothing much more impersonal than receiving ane-mail that doesn't at least say "Hello..." or "Hi..."for the opening; and "Regards..." or "Thanks..." or"Take care..." or "All the best...", or something similaras the closing.

    We can't personally sign the note by hand anymore, but wecan surely personalize it a little bit by at least typingin the recipient's name and then wishing them the best.

    DO... Use Capital Letters Sparingly

    The use of all-caps is shunned on the Internet. It's calledSHOUTING. Every once in a while a word or two in capitalsfor particular emphasis is ok, but avoid overdoing it.

    Tip: Cutesy little smiles and similar symbols, known as emoticons, should also be used sparingly. :-) I advise younot to use these symbols at all in business e-mails, unlessthe recipient is a friend or well-known to you. Just aswith business letters, the principle underlying businesse-mails is: clear and concise businesslike communicationwith a minimum of clutter. '-)

    DO... Check Spelling, Grammar, and Format

    Make a point to ensure that your e-mail is relativelyreadable. It doesn't have to be a work of art, but at leastrespect the basic rules of spelling and grammar. Moste-mail programs have a spell-checker option. Use it.

    Tip: For better readability, break your e-mail into short1,2, or 3 sentence paragraphs with a blank line betweenparagraphs. (i. e. double hard-return).

    DO... Watch Out For "E-mail Rage"

    Many an e-mail has been composed and sent when a personwas in an angry or upset state (referred to as "flaming").Many people have lived to regret these indiscretions inthe cold sober light of the next hour, or the next day. Remember, whenever the Send button has been clicked, youre-mail is gone.

    Tip: When you compose an e-mail while in an "upset state",it is always a good idea to save it as a draft for an houror two and then read it over carefully at least once beforesending it, just to make sure you are communicating whatyou really want to, in a clear and respectful way.

    DON'T... Forward Junk Mail To Others

    From time to time, people to whom we have given our e-mailaddress will have momentary lapses in judgment (yes, evenfriends and family) and will forward "junk mail" to you.

    These are often long rambling stories, urban myths, scrapsof wisdom, chain letters, collections of jokes, or such, that are prevalent around the Net.

    This is the equivalent of opening your regular mail box athome and finding it loaded with unsolicited and unwantedpromotional letters and advertising flyers. Would youforward those to your friends or family? Do you? I didn'tthink so.

    If a friend or acquaintance sends one to you, politelye-mail them back asking if they would please be kindenough to remove your name from their distribution listfor that type of item. Explain that you are alreadyinundated with this "type" of unsolicited e-mail. Usually, they will take the hint and accommodate you.

    DON'T... Think That E-Mail Is Instantaneous

    Believe it or not, e-mail is not as reliable as a telephonecall when it comes to timely communication!

    The Internet is a loosely connected network of computersand telecommunications equipment owned, operated, andmanaged by many independent companies, institutions, andgovernment organizations.

    Your e-mail must often travel a complex and circuitousroute to get to its destination. For example, if someoneschedules maintenance on a computer or a piece of equipmenton the network that your e-mail must pass through, yourmessage may be delayed and you won't even know it.

    Also, who is to guarantee that the intended recipient evenchecks their e-mail regularly? Many people only check theire-mail every few days. So, if your communication is urgent, use the standard telephone. It is still the only way to beabsolutely sure that a message has been received at aparticular point in time.

    DON'T... Forget To Check Your E-mail Regularly

    There is nothing more frustrating than sending an e-mailto someone and then having them tell you on the telephone aweek later that they haven't seen your message because thelast time they checked their e-mail was a week ago!

    If you want people to take your e-mails seriously, makesure that you take theirs seriously too. So, check youre-mail regularly; at least every two or three days.

    The bottom line to all of this is simple. Remember thate-mail is just another form of interpersonal communication. People deserve the same amount of respect and civility asyou would give them in a telephone call or a regular letter.

    © 2005 by Shaun Fawcett


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