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Ms. Manners: A guide to modern email etiquette

We rely on email to make business more efficient, but some things people do just add to the burden. Which of these business email no-nos are you committing?

woman sending email

are you
a rude emailer?

We rely on email to make business more efficient, but some things people do just add to the burden. Which of these business email no-nos are you committing?

The anatomy of an email

When you’re writing an email, make sure you address everything as clearly and completely as possible. Don’t ask people to read between the lines or follow up for the information they need to answer you.

If you have to write a long email, make sure you break it up by using bolded headers and bullets or numbers when possible.

Grammar matters

The rules of grammar and spelling exist to ensure there’s no miscommunication in the written word, so don’t just fire off an email without re-reading it. Brush up on grammar rules, make sure nothing is misspelled and don’t use a word unless you’re sure you know what it means — trying too hard to sound, as the Brits say, “posh” can have disastrous results.

Be careful with shorthand. It may be OK when emailing people you know well, but avoid it with new contacts. Things like BTW are probably fine if replying from your phone, but avoid LOLs and emoticons.

Replying and forwarding

Don’t reply to any email until you’ve read the whole communication, including other people’s responses. Unless you’re blind-copied or you need to make your comment privately, always reply to all if others were included.

When you do reply, make sure you address every item. If several people asked questions, it’s helpful to address all of them in a single email. If someone needs a lot of input, it’s helpful to reply “inline” by responding to their comments inside the body of their own email and changing your font to a different color.

  • Make sure you remove any information you or the original emailer may not want others to have.
  • Do you need to remove any email addresses from the “to” or “from” lines of the forward?
  • Do you need to remove anyone’s contact info from their signature?
  • Did they divulge potentially sensitive information? This could include anything from private product details or pricing to personal information.
  • Did they (or you) say anything negative about someone? Even if you’re not forwarding to that person, you should remove it.

And do we really need to say you shouldn’t forward jokes, memes, cute anything or political rhetoric to business contacts?

Email extras that count: attachments and signatures

The email extras can be one of the most irritating parts of an email if done incorrectly. Attachments over 8 megabytes should be uploaded to a service like Dropbox or Box to ensure they don’t get blocked. Multiple attachments should be put into a folder and zipped.

Always have a signature set up automatically on both your computer and your phone, making sure the one on your cell says so in case of a strange auto-correct error or to explain why it’s such a short response. It should include:

  • Your full name
  • Your full title
  • Your address if you’re a brick-and-mortar establishment
  • Your phone number, including extensions and cell if you want people to have it
  • Your email address (optional)
  • Your website address
  • Any other links you want people to have (social media, blog, etc.)

When it comes to images like photos, logos and backgrounds, less is more. They may screw up the way your email displays on some people’s email clients. And anything but a discreet (small) logo often just looks cheesy.

The golden rule

When it comes to email communications, always follow The Golden Rule. Write the kinds of emails you’d like to receive. Who knows? Maybe someone will learn something from you.

Tell us

What are your email pet peeves? Sound off in the comments below.

More on using email well

Working Mom 3.0: 5 Steps to better emails
Bride-to-be’s guide to email organization
Spring clean your inbox

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