What’s email etiquette and why do I care?

Since I started using the internet in 1994, it has grown exponentially and every day, new users join us online. I sometimes forget that I was once a “newbie,” too and that not everybody had the great teachers I had online. Today, I’d like to talk about email netiquette and I hope it might help you in your business and personal correspondence.

Netiquette is a term that was coined years ago to refer to “Internet Etiquette.” Here’s a short primer of some of the rules of Netiquette. If you follow them, your friends and colleagues will thank you, trust me!

  • Always type a subject line. If you don’t, it’s hard for the recipient to know what the email is about and whether it’s something s/he can read now, or if it’s something that can wait till later. Likewise, don’t recycle a subject line when you’ve moved on to another topic. If you and your co-worker have completed Project Cheesecake and have moved on to discussing the holiday office party, give your conversation a new subject line. Your subject lines will also serve as a way for you and your correspondent to keep track of what’s happened in a discussion or a specific project. I know that when a client calls with a question about a specific aspect of a job, it’s much easier for me to find what we’ve discussed in the past by searching through subject lines.
  • Quote the part of the email you’re referring to in your reply. Most email programs will automatically “quote” the content of an email when you click “reply.” The person who emailed you knows, for the most part, what s/he said. If you’re commenting on one specific point of an email that was sent to you, there’s no need to keep the rest of the quoted material in your email. Likewise, if you’re responding to a person’s email and it may have been a while since they wrote it, please be sure to quote the part you’re responding to. I’ve noticed that AOL users don’t tend to quote email content and will reply to something I sent two weeks ago and I have no idea what they’re talking about.
  • HTML formatting. Not all email programs can handle HTML formatting. HTML formatting consists pretty much of anything but plain black text. Some users don’t like HTML formatting, either. Use it sparingly and consider the reader. It’s very hard to read a paragraph written in pink on a yellow background. Black on white is easiest on the eye. In addition, background images make your email “heavier” than a plain text email and can make email harder to read. I’ve noticed that when I’m searching old email for a particular attachment, I get bogged down in a lot of emails that don’t have work-related attachments, only background images.
  • Line breaks. Write short paragraphs and leave a blank line in between them. It simply makes it easier for your recipient to read your email and helps them not to miss anything important. I see run-on paragraphs quite often, particularly on mailing lists, and I tend to not to even try to read an email that’s one big page-long paragraph. It’s too hard to read and can get very frustrating, especially for those of us with “old eyes.”
  • Signature files. These are great to have, especially in business emails. You wouldn’t leave a phone message for a business contact without leaving a callback number… a signature file in your email can have your name, email address, phone number and any other pertinent information for the user. Keep it to a few lines and you can’t go wrong.
  • Never use ALL CAPS. This is the internet equivalent of yelling at someone. Nobody enjoys that!
  • Limit use of sarcasm, jokes, etc. Sometimes the written word can come through in a different way from that which you intended, especially if the recipient doesn’t know you well. In email one doesn’t have the added benefit of facial expressions or gestures and things could become awkward. If you’re writing a business email, it’s best to eliminate the jokes, as they may be misconstrued. As an example, I once wrote an email to a friend where I used the acronym “LOL”. He didn’t know that was the acronym for “laughing out loud” and thought I was being sarcastic and saying “lots of luck” and he didn’t speak to me for weeks after that. It would be awful for that to happen in a business situation.
  • Answer queries. Last, but certainly not least, when you are asked a question, or multiple questions, in an email, but sure to answer them all. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to ask a question a second time.

And those are just a few of the courtesies one should extend others when using email. emailreplies.com is a great little site with lots more information about this subject, including a page with all of the email netiquette that you should need both in your personal and business internet correspondence.

Basically, it all boils down to the Golden Rule. Write your emails in the same way that you’d have them written to you! Questions? Concerns? Need one-on-one assistance? Drop us an email!

Be nice. Be real. Be happy.