Email: Avoid Awkward, Even Libelous Situations

Top 10 Email Etiquette Tips

If you’re writing an email or responding to one, either personally or on behalf of your company. If you’re sending it to an individual or to a larger group, it’s vital that you observe certain email etiquette in order that your email is appropriate in every way, and you avoid awkward, even potentially libelous situations.

With that philosophy in mind, please read our ten email etiquette tips.

TIP #1: Be Content Conscious

When writing an email, ask yourself why the content you are about to write should represent you or your company in a different way than alternate forms of communication. As an email it might be shorter form, but tone, grammar and spelling is just as important. Ask yourself:

• To whom are you sending your email?
• What are your objectives for sending the email? What outcomes are you anticipating?
• Is this a transactional or relational message?
• Is anything about your message contentious or controversial – or could it be misconstrued in that way?
• What sort of tone should you take: More friendly? More professional? Both?
• What are the next steps you would like the recipient to take, or that you are planning?

TIP #2: Getting Attached

Are you including any attachments? Sending the wrong files to the wrong people could be more than just embarrassing, it could also create a liability for your company. Double and triple check that you are uploading the right files and ensure they are OK to send to the individuals you have selected.

Bear in mind that some of your recipients will not open attachments from an email. In addition, some recipients will not like, or even be able to receive, content heavy files. So be prepared to use a file storage site and just send those individuals a link. They may find this approach both more secure and more in line with their privacy needs. However, if you are including links within the body of your email, make sure the link destination leads to appropriate content. Not only that, make sure the links are active.

TIP #3: Including Others In Your Emails

Before you release a business email to your selected recipient, you may also need to send the same email to others. There are two primary ways of accomplishing this:

1. The cc function: openly sending the same email to one or more other email addresses at the same time.
And/or:
2. The bcc function: silently sending the same email to one or more other email addresses others at the same time.

While both of these approaches can be entirely appropriate ways to send your email, they can also be inappropriate and awkward – even problematic.

Know who you need to or want to include. Copying (cc) others in on your email can be dangerous – so ensure including them is appropriate.

“Blind” copying (bcc) others because you don’t want the “known recipients” to have knowledge about who else is receiving the same email can also be dangerous. Be discrete and ensure it is essential to include anyone as a bcc.

TIP #4: Acknowledge Email Receipt

A primary email rule is to respond to incoming emails from known senders in an appropriate and timely manner.

You may be busy when the email hits your inbox, but it’s rude not to at least acknowledge receipt simply by saying “Received your email and will respond later today.” It’s also rude to not respond quickly, after all, email is an almost real-time tool.

TIP #5: Responding To Others Via Email

While you can control the message, the attachments and recipients when sending an email, it is sometimes not as easy when you are simply responding to one, especially if you use the “Reply to All” feature and the sender included others when they originally sent their email to you.

When you click “Reply to All” you are replying to the original sender of the email and any other email address they included in the cc area of their email. That means if you are responding to a message from the sender with verbiage meant only for their eyes, you will also be sending your message to all the other individuals included in the original message. So ask yourself:

• Is the content of your email response a private message from you to the initiator?
• Does your response contain sensitive, even confidential information?
• Perhaps your email is emotionally charged?

All of these scenarios are possible and they could not only damage your internal and external relationships, they could also land you and your company in hot water.

The safe approach is to reply only to the sender and select your own cc’s and bcc’s where necessary. They may be the same individuals as were sent to you, but at least you took control and didn’t just blindly follow the initiator.

TIP #6: The Height Of Bad Manners

There are a number of ways you can send the same email to multiple individuals, and we all want to save time, but you must avoid sharing email addresses openly. Not only is it the height of bad manners, it could also create a liability for your company by exposing contact names and email address to others by listing them all in the To: or cc: field.

There are other ways to send bulk email, of course, but if you have to send a message to multiple individuals in this way, place the email recipient’s addresses in the bcc field and make yourself the “To” email adress. In this way you expose nothing other than your own email address. You do not want the recipients to necessarily a) know who the other people were who also got the email, and b) obtain the email addresses of the other individuals, in the event they want to reuse or worse, misuse, the information themselves.

TIP #7: Read Out Loud

So you’ve been content conscious and made sure attachment and links are correct. You checked the “To, cc and bcc” email recipients. What’s left before hitting the send button? Checking and double-checking the words themselves.

Are you using proper sentence structure? First word capitalized with appropriate punctuation? Are the words spelled correctly…not just the right letters but the right meaning? Check it yourself after the auto spell check. Too many times we rely on the auto spell check but it just “sees” and corrects your words but doesn’t truly understand their meaning.

Are there multiple instances of !!! or ??? This over-use of punctuation can be perceived as rude or condescending in an email. If you use any CAPITAL LETTERS they can be misconstrued as rudely “shouting your message.”

It might sound strange, but make sure you read your email out loud to yourself to ensure the content and tone is what you desire.

TIP #8: Don’t Hit The Send Button Just Yet!

You’ve diligently prepared your email but why send it if it’s not going to get noticed? It’s the time to include the subject line.

First, never send an email without a subject line. A blank subject doesn’t just indicate forgetfulness, there’s a real possibility that it won’t be opened as it may look suspicious to the recipient. In addition, because the content of the subject line is one of the two most important reasons people actually open your email, you would be lessening your chance of someone actually viewing and reading your email if you miss including the subject line.

So what should the subject line look like?

1. From a purely legal point of view, be sure the subject line accurately reflects the content of your message. It’s a CAN-SPAM requirement.
2. If the intended recipient doesn’t know you but you are affiliated with someone they do know, include their name in the subject line, i.e., “Referred to you by John Doe – information about insurance for teenage drivers.”
3. While the subject line should accurately reflect the content of your email, it doesn’t have to be boring, but remember that your subject line can get your email flagged as SPAM. Don’t include promotional words like “FREE” and stay away from using exclamation marks.
4. Keep the subject line brief – 7-10 words, max. In this way most, if not all of your subject line will display in the recipients inbox pane.

TIP #9: You’re Still Not Quite Ready!

While the content displayed in the subject line is one of the reasons your email will get noticed, the other key reason is the From Name and From email address. After all, the recipient is considering that information in order to judge the credibility of the email content.

In addition, if your usual email address has already been “white-listed” by the recipient and you choose to send your email using a different name, it may be automatically sent to their SPAM folder – clearly, not the intent.

So think carefully about the From name and From email address and be sure your name is reflected properly in the From: field. Jane A. Doe (not jane, jane doe or JANE DOE) and your email address is jdoe@ or janedoe@ as opposed to info@ or marketing@. It could be the difference between your carefully prepared message actually being read or not.

TIP #10: One, Last, Important Item.

We’ve talked about etiquette, we’ve talked about liability, and other vital areas to consider in your email communications, however, your email represents you and your company so it’s important remembering that the adage “it’s not what you say, but how you say it” is as pertinent to email as it is to any other form of communication:

1. Write in a tone and manner that reflects the image and supports the stature of your company.
2. Type in complete sentences. To type random phrases or cryptic thoughts is not clear communication.
3. Never assume the intent of an email. If you are not sure — ask so as to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.
4. Don’t hesitate to say thank you, how are you, or how much we appreciate your help!
5. Keep emails brief and to the point. Save long conversations for a letter or for the telephone.
6. Always end your emails with “Thank you,” “Sincerely,” “Best regards” – something!

The bottom line is that beyond good grammar, punctuation and writing style, the content of an email, like any other form of communication, can be misconstrued, so if you’re in doubt show it to someone else before sending and get their opinion. If it’s an important business communication and if you’re unsure, check with your boss or a trusted colleague before hitting the SEND button in order to avoid awkward, even libelous situations.

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