Food for Thought: The Business Etiquette of Email

emailI remember in the mid-90s, when I was attending industry meetings and asking people if they had an email address. I got a lot of strange looks and “why would I want that?’ comments. I was fortunate to be on a college campus, where I had the opportunity to be an early adopter of the Internet, including email. Now, of course, email is ubiquitous. It is a necessary business tool.

Some of the advantages of email include the ability to archive messages as proof of conversations and concessions. You can print off a hard copy. It is less expensive than long distance phone calls – and you don’t have to spend time chit-chatting. (I am not a sports fan, yet in the days of UNLV Basketball supremacy, I had to spend time at the beginning of almost every phone conversation discussing basketball). You can retrieve messages when it is convenient instead of being interrupted by phone calls. No more phone tag. You can copy (or bcc) colleagues. You can forward messages to others. You can provide an immediate reply.

 Here are some tips to make your email more effective:

  • Make the subject line specific – indicate what the email is about. People often scan all of their email, then prioritize which to answer first, etc.  If your email gets lost in someone’s inbox, it is more difficult to locate without a topic in the subject line.
  • Be concise. People today often just scan messages, and if they are too wordy, your main point may be missed.
  • Only one topic per email. People often save emails in folders based on the subject matter. If you have more than one topic, it will probably get saved in a folder based on which subject the reader finds most important, and the additional subjects get lost.
  • Do not send out an email with typos, misspelled words or punctuation errors. People will judge you the same way they would upon receipt of a formal business letter with the same errors.
  • When the inquiry is by e mail, respond by e mail. There are now ‘phone people’ and ‘email people.' If the inquiry is by email, this indicates they are an email person.
  • Respond ASAP, even if you don’t have the information they are seeking. Let them know you received their email and that you are researching an answer for them.
  • Do not use all caps. It makes it more difficult to read, and on the internet, using all caps is the same as shouting.
  • Forget the acronyms (BTW, LOL, etc.). They are for Twitter or Facebook, where you have a limited area to use. Many people do not know what some of the acronyms stand for.
  • Opt-in only, not spam. If you are sending out email newsletters or promotions, be sure you have the permission of the recipient. You only anger some people that consider this type of unsolicited email as spam. 

For more business etiquette, read The Business of Business Letter Writing.

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