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Updated
February 2003

 

Dynamoo's Email Etiquette

Note: this is an old version of this document, you can find the new one here.

Although email is a relatively new medium, in many organisations and businesses it is now the de-facto communication method, both internally and with external bodies.

The formality of email in most businesses can vary between that of an interoffice memo down to a telephone call. Although most people give careful thought to the contents of anything written down on paper, most emails are composed with much less consideration, but can be even more permanent than paper (just think.. how many really old emails are still in your mailbox?)

But it can be the day-to-day emails that cause the most problems, the offhand remarks and unguarded comments, thoughtless turns of phrase and careless wording. Care must be taken both when you send email, and when you interpret it. Don't jump down someone's throat if there's a chance you have misinterpreted what they are saying.

One problem with less formal email is missed signals - you can tell a lot from facial expression or gesture (in person), or by tone of voice (on the telephone). Irony or humour can be difficult to express in a mail message - many people get round this by using smileys such as :) to indicate humor - but not everyone knows what these mean, so they are not foolproof.

The following tips should help you avoid some of the pitfalls:

  • Do check to see what your organisation's email policy is.
  • Do try to think about the message content before you send it out.  
  • Do make sure that the content is relevant to the recipients. Nobody likes to receive junk email.
  • Do be polite. Terseness can be misinterpreted.
  • Do trim any quoted message down as much as possible.
  • Do try to use humour and irony sparingly. You can use smileys such as :) or :( to indicate facial expressions, but make sure that the recipient understands what they mean.
  • Do ensure that you have a relevant "Subject" line.
  • Do try to quote from the original message where relevant. You can break the quoted message down into paragraphs and comment on them individually to make it clearer.
  • Do be patient, especially with inexperienced email users. Give people the benefit of the doubt - just because you are familiar with email etiquette, it doesn't mean that they are.
  • Do include a brief signature on your email messages to help the recipient understand who it is from.
  • Do be careful when replying to mailing list messages, or to messages sent to many recipients. Are you sure you want to reply to the whole list?
  • Do remember to delete anything that isn't needed or is trivial.
  • Do remember to tell people the format of any attachments you send if they're anything other than basic Microsoft Office file types.
  • Do tell your correspondent if you forward a message to somebody else to deal with, so they know who to expect a reply from.
  • Do use emphasis where its useful to do so. If your email system doesn't allow bold or italics then a common convention is to use a *star* either side of the word you want to stress.
  • Don't reply to an email message when angry , as you may regret it later. Once the message has been sent, you will not be able to recover it.
  • Don't keep mail on your server longer than necessary, especially large attachments.  
  • Don't copy out an entire, long message just to add a line or two of text such as "I agree".
  • Don't type in CAPITALS as this is considered to be SHOUTING. This is one of the rudest things you can do.
  • Don't over-use punctuation such as exclamation marks ("!") as these are meant to be for emphasis. In particular avoid more than one exclamation mark ("!!"), especially if your email is quite formal. Also, over-use of the full-stop (e.g. "....") can make a message difficult to read.
  • Don't send irrelevant messages, especially to mailing lists or newsgroups.
  • Don't send large attachments without checking with the recipient first.
  • Don't send excessive multiple postings to people who have no interest. This is known as "spamming" and is considered to be ignorant.
  • Don't send chain letters or "make money fast" messages. There are several hoaxes about to do with viruses - never pass these on without checking with your IT department first.
  • Don't criticize people's spelling, it is considered petty. Many people have no way of running a spell check on their messages and will make typos.
  • Don't conduct arguments in public.
  • Don't "flame" people by sending them abusive email messages.
  • Don't make personal remarks about third parties. Email messages can come back to haunt you.
  • Don't send unsuitable email or attachments, especially anything of a sexual nature as they may well be found by a third party later.
  • Don't use an over-elaborate signature on your email message. Never, ever, use scanned images in a signature as these tend to be very large.
  • Don't mark things as urgent if they aren't, because then when you really do have an urgent message it may not be treated in the way it deserves.

 

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