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E-mail etiquette

Did you know that there is a special term for e-mail etiquette? It is called netiquette, and means that there are certain rules to follow if you want to communicate well via e-mail. Here we walk you through some of what the savvy mom needs to know to make your ideas understood.

A new way to get your message across

E-mail is a new form of communication which we are just beginning to experiment, and is different to any form of communication we have yet known. Unlike the phone, we don't have the benefit of the tone of voice to better understand the communicator -- and unlike a letter sent by postal mail, we often don't take a lot of time creating an e-mail to someone. Your message is sent out instantaneously and often is only a couple of sentences long.

Perils and pitfalls
Because e-mail is so new and instantaneous, the communicator is too often misunderstood. This creates unnecessary conflicts. Here are some tips to help prevent cyberspace (another term for Internet) misunderstandings and conflicts:

  • NEVER USE ALL CAPS WHEN WRITING AN E-MAIL. PEOPLE OFTEN CONSIDER THIS SHOUTING. The only time you should use capitalization is when you are following grammatical rules or you wish to EMPHASIZE a word (only capitalize the word you wish to emphasize).
  • Always read your e-mail over at least once. A general rule is to read it over once for a close friend and read it over two or three times for someone you don't know, a client, or a boss. If it is an important letter, you may want to have a friend read it over once before you send it.
  • It is good to use the spell-checker if you have one, especially if you mispell words often. (If your e-mail program doesn't provide this feature, you can compose messages in a word processing program which offers spell check, and then cut and paste the corrected message into the body of your e-mail message.) Mispelled words can sometimes be misunderstood by the reader.
  • Use lots of clues to let the reader know your facial expressions or mood while you are writing the letter. In informal correspondence (i.e. not business letters), people often use abbreviations, emoticons (also called "smileys") and such cues as *she says smiling*, *sad*, *smile*, *laugh*, *giggle*, *crying* , *angrily*, *its a joke*, *confused*, *questioning* and *laughing at herself.* These notations can make a world of difference when it comes to e-mail communication. Remember, this person may have never met you. They don't know who you are and what type of character you have. Without these cues, they may misunderstand the intention of your e-mail. Click here for a list of many common Internet abbreviations and emoticons.
  • Always start with a blank e-mail when beginning a new conversation. If you include past conversations and old subject lines, it could cause confusion -- the reader might think you are still talking about last weeks topic.
  • Always hit the "reply" button when you are in the middle of a conversation. Type your new message at the top of the e-mail, and leave their comments at the bottom of the e-mail. This "quoted" text will help them remember what their question/comment was that to which you are now responding.
  • Save messages. Remember that unlike other forms of communication, it may be 24 or more hours in between messages. It is hard to remember the last comment you made to them or what the conversation is about. I receive as many as 20 e-mails a day in my main mailbox. On top of this, I have multiple e-mail boxes. I have between 40 and 100 "conversations" via e-mail a week, and it is hard for me to remember what I said last. Because of this, I keep my e-mail for one month before I delete it. Even when I do this, it is a lot harder for me to know what the current conversation is without past e-mails included with the message.
  • Email should not be considered confidential. Your message could be intercepted or viewed by someone other than the recipient. Use the "postcard" rule: don't write anything you wouldn't write on a postcard sent through the mail. Also note: if you are e-mailing from work, remember that your boss can read your e-mails and view the websites you visit on-line.
  • Never write an e-mail to someone unless you are writing something you would say to them face to face. The words you write in your e-mail hurt just as hard as if you said it to their face. Just because you don't know the person doesn't mean you should be rude. It may be electronic, but in the majority of the cases, somewhere out there a living person is reading your e-mail -- NOT a machine.

    The types of services
    When in doubt about a message you are sending out, the golden rule applies to e-mail as well as many other areas in life: "Treat others the way you wish to be treated."

These simple tips should improve your communication using e-mail and prevent misunderstandings. As you begin to put them into use, you should notice that this electronic medium takes on a whole new dimension.

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