Following proper etiquette is always important in formal settings like the corporate environment. This is particularly true when it comes to the use of e-mail. Failing to follow proper e-mail etiquette can lead to misunderstood messages, which can in turn lead to larger, potentially even job-threatening problems. Unfortunately, I have found that most users of e-mail in the corporate world are ”green” to the rules of proper e-mail communications. So, as part of my responsibilities as a network engineer/e-mail administrator, I’ve developed a corporate e-mail etiquette plan for my users. Here are some suggestions you can use to educate your users on the proper use of e-mail.

1. Use plain text if in doubt
There are basically three formats floating around the e-mail world: plain text, HTML, and rich text formatting. If you’re not sure which is the appropriate one to use, the rule of thumb is to go with plain text.

2. Remember that e-mail is not confidential
E-mail is often not the most secure method of communication. In instances when the message sent requires confidentiality, remember that e-mail is only as secure as a snail mailed postcard. So use caution.

3. Convey intent with emoticons and typesets
When speaking to someone, a large part of your message is conveyed through body language, inflection, and the tone of your voice. E-mail, unfortunately, lacks an effective way to nonverbally communicate these types of emotions. This shortcoming can lead to the misinterpretation of even the simplest message.

To combat this potential for miscommunication, e-mail etiquette allows for the use of a series of special characters called emoticons. The use of e-mail emoticons is generally considered appropriate. When in doubt, however, write the intended emoticon out. For example, if you intend to make a statement that is funny, detail in parenthesis the emoticon equivalent. (Grin)
An acronym for emotion icon, a small icon composed of punctuation characters that indicates how an e-mail message should be interpreted (that is, the writer’s mood). Source: Webopedia
Using different typesets is another way to ensure that the intent of your e-mail message comes across correctly. Typesets, such as color, bold, italics, and underlines, are useful methods of inflecting emotion in written communications. You can effectively stress points in an e-mail by using typesets.

Most typesets, however, are available only in rich and HTML-formatted messages. To help convey intent while in plain text, you can use all caps. However, this is considered shouting, so use with extreme caution. Never send an entire e-mail in all caps.

To make sure your text doesn’t stand out in a bad way and make you look bad in the process, be sure to always spell check all your e-mails.

4. Think before you send that message
Forwarding, replying, and sending attachments are often actions that can break the rules of e-mail etiquette. Here are some guidelines to follow when sending e-mails.

  • Limit attachment size: Never send attachments over 1 MB in size. Most free e-mail providers such as Hotmail and Yahoo have restrictions on the sizes of e-mail. Therefore, sending a large attachment will often result in an e-mail bounce. Instead, use other methods of sending large files, such as FTP or sending the URL for downloading the file.
  • Use Bcc to protect e-mail addresses: Bcc stands for “blind carbon copy.” This optional addressing field should be used to send e-mail to several addresses without the recipients seeing each other’s e-mail address. Bcc is not intended to stab coworkers in the back; it’s just a means to protect the privacy of e-mail addresses.
  • Avoid sending chain letters or spam: Chain letters, spam, and other advertisements are often annoying and do not need to be sent to friends and colleagues. They have enough “junk” e-mail of their own without yours cluttering their inboxes and adding to their e-mail frustration. If you keep receiving unwanted e-mail, the best course of action to take is to utilize your e-mail client’s blocking capabilities. Also, your ISP or system administrator should have the ability to block senders from sending junk to your computer.

5. Keep it simple
When you reply to an e-mail, the complete message is likely to be referenced. For the sake of e-mail etiquette, selectively cut and paste only needed information in e-mail correspondence. In general, look at your outgoing mail and think short, sweet, and effective. Proofread the letter and ensure your information is detailed enough to deliver your point, but not so long that you lose the reader.

Wrapping up
Why should we take the time to ensure we use proper e-mail etiquette? The answer is simple—we can’t afford not to! Success, both personally and professionally, depends on effective communication. Miscommunication can mislead and deter business and relationships. Following proper e-mail etiquette can curb this type of miscommunication and ensure that your message and intent won’t be misinterpreted.
What do you think of Jake’s recommendations? Do your users have trouble using e-mail effectively? If so, what methods have you used to teach them proper e-mail etiquette? Please post a comment or write to Jake Necessary and share your feedback.