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These days, e-mail is used by just about everyone. Unfortunately,
a lot of users out there don’t use it right,
flirting with security risks, consuming excessive bandwidth, and practicing lousy
etiquette. Here are some basic e-mail usage guidelines to help your users
handle their e-mail responsibly and to safeguard your orgizanization.

#1: Prevent virus outbreaks and spam

Viruses are often spread through e-mail. You can greatly reduce the
spread of e-mail viruses by using antivirus software, using only e-mail
services that offer automatic antivirus protection (such as AOL, Google,
Hotmail, and Yahoo), opening e-mail only from trusted sources, opening only
attachments you’re expecting, and scanning attached files with antivirus
software before opening them.

Spam is loosely
defined as unsolicited bulk e-mail and loosely correlates to the junk mail that
turns up in your home mailbox. But spam represents more than unwanted clutter.
It clogs e-mail accounts–and networks and servers–while trying to sell
products, spread jokes, or propagate Internet hoaxes.

Reduce the amount of spam you receive by being cautious
where you post your e-mail address. Avoid publishing your e-mail address on Web
sites or submitting it to every site or organization that requests it.

Never forward chain messages, which often reveal coworkers’
and colleagues’ e-mail addresses to other parties. Use caution when accepting
e-mail offers or agreeing to accept mailings from vendors; subscribe only to
Web sites and newsletters you really need and consider creating a generic
Hotmail or Yahoo e-mail account for these subscriptions.

Don’t open unsolicited e-mail. If you accidentally open
spam, don’t click links offering to unsubscribe or remove you from the mailing
list unless the sender is a trusted vendor.

#2: Avoid phishing attacks

Phishing scams are designed to
steal consumers’ personal information. They often use doctored and fraudulent
e-mail messages to trick recipients into divulging private information, such as
credit card numbers, account usernames, passwords, and even social security
numbers.

Online banking and e-commerce are generally safe, but you
should always be careful about divulging personal and corporate information
over the Internet. Phishing messages often boast real logos and appear to have
come from the actual organization, but those messages are frequently nothing
more than copyright infringements and faked addresses. If you suspect a message
possesses any credibility, you are much safer calling the company directly–preferably
at a telephone number printed on a paper statement or invoice–and talking to an
authorized representative.

#3: Manage your Inbox

Sort messages by priority, subject,
date, sender, and other options to help find important e-mail that requires
your attention. Proper e-mail etiquette dictates that you respond to all e-mail
in a timely fashion. Generally speaking, you should respond to all professional
e-mail within a business day, even if it’s just to say you’ve received the
message and will look into the matter. Occasionally, you may receive an e-mail
thread that contains responses from several people; always read the entire
thread before responding.

#4: Compose professional messages

It’s easy to convey the impression
that you’re unprofessional or careless if you don’t follow some basic
principles of good business writing. Make sure you follow proper grammar and
sentence structure when composing and responding to messages and use a spell
checker. Don’t type in all capital letters–it creates the effect of shouting. Break
your message into paragraphs for logic and readability.

Before clicking the Send button, give
it a final once-over. Reread the entire e-mail, checking it for grammatical
errors, punctuation mistakes, and typos. You’ll be amazed at what you catch. Also
make sure your tone is appropriate for the message.

#5: Write effective subject lines

Writing subject lines can be
tricky, but you should always include one. The goal is to summarize the message
without being too wordy or too vague. Long subjects tend to be skimmed or
ignored, and they don’t always fully display in e-mail viewers. For best
readability, use sentence case for subject lines rather than all caps:

Agenda for meeting on
3/29/07

Not

AGENDA FOR MEETING ON
3/29/07

#6: Properly use CC and BCC

The carbon copy (CC) and blind
carbon copy (BCC) features found in most e-mail clients allow you to send
copies of an e-mail to others you need to keep informed but who aren’t
necessarily the primary recipients.

When copying others, be certain the e-mail message pertains
to them. If you use e-mail address lists, verify that all of the members of the
list should receive the e-mail, too, and remove those who don’t need to be
included. And use the BCC feature sparingly. If sensitive topics require BCCing
others, it may be best to take the matter offline and discuss it in person.

#7: Obey etiquette rules when forwarding messages

Before you forward an e-mail, make
sure that all recipients need to receive the message. In addition, be careful
when forwarding sensitive or confidential information. Never forward
proprietary information to external audiences or to unauthorized recipients.
Before clicking the Send button, review whether a message’s contents are
appropriate for each listed recipient.

#8: Don’t be a party to a flame war

Flame wars are heated e-mail
exchanges that are more emotional than reasoned, and they have no place in
professional communications. If you receive a flame or suddenly find yourself
in a flame war, take a little time before responding, if you respond
at all. Think about the situation and reply rationally not emotionally.

You may also decide not to reply but to deal with the issue
in person. Often, flame wars are started because of a simple misunderstanding.
An ill-phrased comment (or even a well phrased one) can be misconstrued by a
recipient, who then fires off a salvo in response. Instead of replying, go talk
to the person and discuss the message. If talking with the person doesn’t end
the problem, involve a manager for assistance in resolving the issue offline.

#9: Protect e-mail addresses

Don’t divulge your coworkers’
e-mail addresses to vendors, friends, or others outside the organization.
Verify that recipients listed in the To and CC fields should be receiving
messages and that you won’t be revealing others’ e-mail addresses in the
process. Don’t post your or coworkers’ e-mail addresses on Internet forums or
bulletin boards, on Usenet groups, in chat rooms, or in other public areas.

Here are a couple of simple ways to help keep others’ e-mail
addresses private. First, use the BCC feature when you need to hide their
e-mail addresses from external audiences. Second, delete their addresses from
messages you forward. It takes only a few moments and will reduce the chances
of coworkers’ e-mail addresses proliferating in the wild.

#10: Be smart about handling attachments

E-mail attachments consume
inordinate amounts of e-mail server space and network bandwidth and are often
the culprits behind virus outbreaks–but they’re often the easiest way to
transfer files. Just be sure to follow these guidelines when e-mailing attachments:

  • Don’t attach large files to an e-mail; anything
    over one or two megabytes shouldn’t be sent via e-mail.
  • Limit the number of files you attach to a
    message to five or fewer.
  • Save attachments to your hard drive and then
    delete the e-mail message containing the attachment.
  • Don’t open unexpected attachments or those sent
    by unknown parties.
  • Always scan files with an antivirus program
    before opening an attachment. Never click an attachment without first
    confirming that it’s virus-free.
  • Don’t annoy recipients by forwarding attachments
    they can’t access. If an attachment requires a new or less-common application,
    say so in your message.

#11: Don’t include sensitive or potentially embarrassing information

Don’t make the mistake of thinking
your e-mails are private. They’re not. Think of them as postcards. You should
never include any information in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want published on
the front page of your local newspaper. In other words, never send
confidential, proprietary, sensitive, personal, or classified information
through e-mail. You should also refrain from making inflammatory, emotionally
charged comments in e-mail.

#12: Know when to use e-mail (and when not to)

Businesses provide e-mail for
professional, business-related use, not for jokes, gossip, or chain e-mails.
Also remember that you shouldn’t send an e-mail to do a conversation’s work.
Complicated subjects are often difficult to explain face to face, much less in
an e-mail. Instead of firing off a complicated explanation via e-mail, set up a
short meeting to address the issue in person.

E-mail is also a poor stand-in for conversation when
conducting critical, difficult, and/or unpleasant discussions, such as issues
related to human resources matters. Touchy communications are best handled in
person.