Categorized | Career

Professional Email Etiquette

Posted on 17 September 2008

We all know the feeling: the sickening state of frantic despair that sets in after you realize that you may have accidentally sent a confidential, highly personal or otherwise filthy email to, say, a client, manager or anyone who may hold your employment future in his or her hands.

The favored form of professional correspondence these days is overwhelmingly email. It’s immediate, easy, and facilitates a free and open exchange of ideas, programs, documents and even dirty pictures. But with this ease comes a higher degree of risk (see above), and an increasingly lax attitude toward grammar, spelling and formality.

In other words, eSelf-Preservation is about more than simply taking steps to avoid inadvertently sending your boss a photo of an old man at Mardi Gras with a massive polyurethane penis strapped to his face; it’s about availing yourself of the convenience of email, without compromising your professionalism, or even your reputation.

Here then, are a few tips on professional email etiquette.

  • Don’t write in all CAPS. It’s ANNOYING, and is generally interpreted as SHOUTING. In business, you should write emails as you would write tangible letters. Capitalize what needs to be capitalized, and use proper punctuation. The message will be cleaner, easier to read and more professional.
  • Spellcheck. Some email programs have built-in spellcheckers, and some don’t. If yours does, use it. If it doesn’t, just write important messages in a word-processing program, then copy and paste them into the email. Some word processors have grammar checkers that will help clean up poor punctuation. Remember, nothing says, “I have no time for details” like multiple misspelled words and bad grammar.
  • Avoid mass emails. If you’re in the habit of emailing life updates to friends, just remember, nothing says “I don’t care enough to write you a personal email, but don’t want to feel guilty about losing touch,” like an email addressed to 35 people. And for those “forward-fascists” out there, most of the stuff circulating via mass emails isn’t that funny. Use discretion, and quit clogging everyone’s mailbox.
  • Avoid sarcasm. In speech, people use a change of inflection, or a wry grin to denote sarcasm. So remember, people can’t see your face, or hear your voice over email. You can wink all you want at your screen, but it will likely get you nothing more than a one-way trip to the wacky basket. Unless the recipient knows you well, one way to avoid coming off as a jerk is to close the message with an “emoticon” (see sidebar). These can be used in lieu of facial expressions to achieve the desired tone. Otherwise, always write cleanly and simply.
  • Be careful to whom you send the email. Before sending anything, make sure to look closely at the “To” and “CC” fields. It seems obvious, but I guarantee, at some point of another, you’ll accidentally hit “reply all,” and send something unspeakable to hordes of people, provoking months of acrid ridicule — or worse. There is also an insidious feature on some email programs that allows the sender to “blind copy” others on a message. This means that there may be more recipients to your “reply all” than are indicated in the CC field. Just something to think about when your boss is copied on an email in which you refer to her as a “Soul-Devouring Wench.”
  • Use the subject line. Be as specific as possible. This will make it easier for the recipient to find the email in their archives later, if need be, and should guarantee a faster response from a boss or colleague with a clogged inbox. Plus, a clear statement of intention makes you look more professional.
  • Are you being monitored? Most companies will tell you if you are. If not, just find the right systems administrator and ask him/her. If you even suspect you’re being monitored, be very careful what you send out, even when corresponding with friends. One ill-advised comment could cost you your job.

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