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Like it or not, e-mail is and will continue to form our primary tool of communication. Well, at least when it comes to business correspondence. It doesn’t matter how social the Internet is becoming, it is very unlikely for an alternative communication tool to surface anytime in the near future.
Being the important communication tool that it is – and one that we use day in day out – there are some protocols and etiquette that improve the effectiveness of your e-mails when observed.
START YOUR EMAIL WITH A PROPER GREETING LINE
There’s a reason it’s called a greeting line. If you call someone on the phone, you always start with a greeting too. That being said, there’s no need to inquire about their heath either. Say “Dear …” and dive right in.
BE COURTEOUS AND PROFESSIONAL
Emails and texts are worlds apart. An email is an official piece of business correspondence that may very well be forwarded and shared multiple times. You’ll really want to come across at your best. And don’t use abbreviations such as “ty”, “u”, “br”, and such. Trust me, the time you end up saving doesn’t amount to more than a second or two. So not worth it!
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE!
Typos and grammar errors are not okay! Computers come with tools to prevent those. Make sure they’re turned on. If you’re not comfortable in English, it’s perfectly okay to write in Arabic. And if you find yourself in the situation where you have to use a tool such as Google Translate, add a short disclaimer at the end of your message to that end.
KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE
Ideally, the message you are about to type should fit entirely in the preview pane. People stopped opening messages years ago. Scrolling down is also not something people enjoy. If it doesn’t fit in the preview pane, it’s too long and you may want to consider attaching a report instead.
USE SHORT SENTENCED AND BREAK YOUR E-MAIL INTO MULTIPLE PARAGRAPHS
Keep in mind, most of your e-mails today are being read on mobile phones. So the easier you make it for people to read what you write, the more likely they will do so.
BE STINGY WITH YOUR RECIPIENTS
Don’t go ballistic in sending your e-mail to everyone you can think of. If you want people to keep taking your e-mails serious and read them, don’t send stuff to people who don’t really need to be involved.
USE “TO”, “CC”, AND “BCC” FIELDS FOR WHAT THEY WERE INTENDED
“To” is where you add the people you are addressing directly. “CC” is for people who should be aware of what’s being discussed, but aren’t really expected to take any particular action. “BCC” should be used when you send something to a large number of recipients, and you want to prevent an email flood (most of them clicking on “reply to all” to confirm their attendance to your invitation for example).
DON’T RELY TOO MUCH ON YOUR AUTO-FILL FUNCTION
Your e-mail client may think it’s smart, but you could very easily send your message to the wrong recipient. Always check the names before hitting that send button. You’ll be surprised by how many times you will prevent mistakes that could be quite embarrassing.
START A FRESH E-MAIL THREAD FOR EACH TOPIC, AND DON’T RECYCLE
Even if you are working with the same group on multiple topics, start a fresh email for each. This will generate a clearer thread (trail) when people need to go back and read what’s previously been written. If you mix multiple topics, it could become really difficult to go back in time. For the same reason, don’t recycle old conversations just because you already have all your recipients conveniently in there. People do it all the time and irritate others who wonder why an old topic is being opened up again.
GIVE THEM A HEADS-UP
Although not really necessary, it’s a good idea to indicate in the first line what you expect from the recipients. For example, you can write (in red) “Urgent message. Please respond by no later than end of business …”. At the same token, you could write (in normal color) “FYI only”.
DON’T REQUEST READ RECEIPTS
Some people get really irritated by these. If it helps to put your mind at easy, request a delivery receipt. It won’t guarantee your message has been opened, but you’ll know it made it to the recipient’s inbox.
TAKE IT EASY WITH THOSE ATTACHMENTS
In general, attachments that exceed 4-5 MB are annoying. Although most inboxes allow for 10 MB+ e-mail messages, they still take time to download, form a load on the inbox, and are especially annoying and costly for people with slow connections. You can send 100 MB attachments if you have to, but use a service like yousendit.com or shared folders so people can download your stuff when they are on a fast connection.
DON’T INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL SIGNATURE IN REPLIES
People know by now know who you are. This will make sure the email trail stays clean and easy to read from the start through where it stands today.
DUMP THOSE USELESS DISCLAIMERS
People know what you’re sending is confidential, and they certainly know that they are opening your attachments at their own risk. And most likely, when you ask someone not to read an email that’s not intended for them and to destroy it, they’ll only get curious and open it anyway.
SOME ADVERTISING NEVER HURTS
In context of the previous point, instead of that disclaimer, write a line or two about your organization (or you). Your vision, mission, or even that special deal that’s currently running are perfect examples for that.
ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT WHEN APPROPRIATE
Sometimes, the sender really needs to know if you received their e-mail message. For instance, someone sent you a resume after a telephone interview. Don’t keep that person wondering if you got the CV or whether it’s sitting comfortably in your junk folder. A quick reply with “Well received, thank you” will suffice. You don’t even need to include a greeting line in this case, although it won’t harm you.
WATCH THAT FONT
Comic Sans MS for example is not a suitable font for business correspondence, regardless of how cool some people might think it looks. A 16-point font size is also not the best choice, as is an 8-point one. Times New Roman is passé. Your best bet would be Arial. It’s clear, clean, and it’s easy to read. And it’s pre-installed on every device you can think of. And no, your custom font is a really bad idea. It’ll show up as Times New Roman (or Calibri) on the recipient’s computer because they don’t have your font installed on their machines.
One last word of advice, and perhaps the most important one; keep in mind that when communicating by e-mail, you are missing out on two critical communication elements; body language and tone of voice. Therefore, that quick e-mail you just dispatched in a hurry to make it home for dinner in time may be perceived as a plain abrupt or even rude.
About the Author
Pinnacle Business & Marketing Consulting is a results-driven boutique consulting firm that specializes in providing clients with practical and pragmatic solutions to their business and marketing challenges. For more information about us, please visit our website.