Welcome to the Email Etiquette Workshop. Anyone who uses email (regardless of regularity or purpose) will find this workshop to be useful.
Email has become very prevalent in most people’s lives and many use it to cheaply and quickly communicate with friends, family, and co-workers. Although this technology is available to everyone, and most people are accustomed to using email, people still are not very savvy when it comes to understanding how email functions in a relationship both personally and professionally. How we interpret email : While most people are aware that the computer is not a person and that emails do not have a character of their own, many people still react to them as though they do. Readers assign meaning to everything that people write and tend to perceive it as concrete because it is in black and white (or whatever color you may choose). This response, coupled with a lack of nonverbal cues, poses a serious challenge for email writers. It is easy for emails to be misinterpreted because people write as though they are having a conversation; however, the receiver does not read that way. Ask the audience: How many times have you received an email and felt a little put off by the message even though it was from a good friend? Have you ever sent an email that upset or confused someone? What was it like to be in that situation and what did you do to clear up the misunderstanding? It is because of these uncomfortable situations that some ground rules on email etiquette were established and why email writers should be mindful of them.
This slide provides an overview of the entire workshop.
Salutation: Many complain that writers of email do not take the time to be personable. One way to remedy this and extend good will toward the reader is to add a salutation for each new subject. “Dear,” “Hello,” and “Hi” are all acceptable greetings. If a writer is communicating with someone about the same subject (for example, authorization for overtime) then it is considered acceptable to just begin the email with the first sentence. Length: A number of experts have a wide range of opinions on how lengthy an email should be. Some say that it does not matter and others say that an email should be as long as the text box without scrolling. Both perspectives appear to be correct. In general emails should be short and to the point. However, many companies are moving to paperless memos and other written transactions, thereby requiring that emails be longer. How to effectively write a long email is covered in the slide titled “When Your Message is Long.” Time: It is considered rude not to respond to an email as soon as possible. Writers should strive to respond to emails as quickly as they would a phone message, which tends to be immediately. If the email requires a longer message than the writer is able to provide at that moment, it is considered proper etiquette to let the sender know that the message was received and that the writer is planning to respond as soon as time permits. Grammar and Punctuation: For the professional work world it is imperative that writers use capitalization, grammar, and other traditional ways of writing to include neutral fonts. Plain Text vs. HTML: Not all emails are formatted to read html. It is best to send everything in plain text unless the writer knows for certain that the person he or she is writing can read html.
Most emails will generally account for this now.
This is one of many ways to organize information within an email document. It’s an effective way to make the information flow more logically and it helps the reader to know the proper order of the information in the email in a very clear and concise way.
These are ways to create a document that sounds friendly and “nonverbally” open. While it is important to follow rules of punctuation and grammar in email, using contractions can create a conversational style that isn’t intimidating. Tone is dependent on audience -- an email to a co-worker might have a substantially different tone than email to a boss. Ask them to think about situations and determine appropriate tones for them.
Many users of email complain a great deal about long address lists because they find it rude. Web and Internet experts tend to agree that scrolling is perceived by users to be an imposition. In other words they generally feel put upon when they are required to scroll too much. It is proper etiquette to minimize required scrolling as much as possible. Rather than typing in numerous email addresses in the to: line, create mailing list groups so that there is only one address. It is okay to have three mailing groups included but writers should not include any more than that. Many email composers have address functions that allow them to set up addresses for groups and individuals. Generally, writers will find these functions in the “address book” component of their email. If a writer is sending out lists that have more than twenty people it is a good idea to check with the IT (technology staff) staff in his or her office to assist with setting up group lists.
Attachments can sometimes cause more headaches than help, and it can be difficult for the recipient(s) to figure out why they are unable to download an attachment. One way to help is to provide all of the important information about the file so that the recipient can trouble shoot to something more serious if there is a problem other than incompatibility. Also, due to viruses that spread via e-mail attachments, it’s important that the recipient know that the sender meant for an attachment to be included with the message, and what kind of attachment it is, since opening unknown attachments could cause serious damage to the recipient’s system and spread viruses further. Always check any attachments you are going to send for viruses, and never open unknown attachments!
The most important concept about electronic mailing lists is that they are conversations, but PUBLIC conversations. When writers respond to an e-list they should be sure to check who the message is going to. If you have a personal concern or message then respond to someone privately on the list or in person.
Elevator Summary: Business experts often refer to this kind of summary either as an elevator summary or an executive summary. Either terminology is correct. An elevator summary is a summary that can be given to a colleague or employer in the short time it takes to get from the ground floor to the third floor on an elevator. It has the bare essentials of the message. Why a summary? We all know what it is like to inundated with email, so much so that is difficult to figure out what emails have priority over others. If there is a brief summary at the top readers can make a decision about whether to save the email for later or finish it at that time. The table of contents: The table of contents is a very friendly gesture toward readers when they are required to read long messages. It allows them to skip to the sections of the email that apply to them and avoid those areas that do not. Other explanations : If the reader needs to respond immediately to the email then that should be conveyed in the first paragraph; otherwise, that message may be overlooked and the writer will not receive the response as quickly as one is needed.
This slide shows examples of the elevator summary and the table of contents.
Many companies, in an effort to save on paper, are sending vital information through email about their conferences, corporate orientations, and new policies and procedures. Most likely, new employees will be easily frustrated and confused, so providing information about orientations should be detailed and organized. The more information that is included in the email the less likely the composer will have to fax or mail a document. The same is true for meetings and for policy changes.
There is a myth that continues to circulate that the more a person stalls in getting bad news out the better the recipient will feel about it because he or she will be prepared. THIS IS NOT TRUE. In fact, stalling or beating around the bush only leads to reader frustration and may not serve the messenger well if he or she is writing the email to their boss. It is better to deliver bad news up front in the elevator summary.
This slide provides examples of poor choices for prioritizing information and shows ways to construct messages that are not blaming or ambiguous. “ Weasel words” are words that appear cowardly, ambiguous, or indirect in an effort to ward off or stall potentially negative repercussions.
When writing a complaint via email the writer should provide a very clear picture for the recipient mainly because there is a tremendous amount of room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. It is important that the writer provide a context and state clearly what the problem is and how he or she would like to see the problem resolved. If the problem is urgent, indicate that in the elevator summary and let the recipient know you need a response as soon as possible.
These are the first two steps one can take in writing a complaint. It is important for the writer to provide a context for his or her audience and to show the audience that he or she has taken all the necessary and required steps to resolve it. When a person takes the time to show that she or he is contributing to the solution the message takes on a positive tone that is generally received with greater ease and optimism by the audience.
Everyone does not agrees on what is considered to be a “problem.” When writers clearly state what they perceive to be troublesome it reduces the possibility of disagreement between them and their audience. Labeling something as a “problem” is not sufficient enough to motivate others to act. The problem must be clearly defined in a way that can foster solutions.
Most often when people receive complaints the natural reaction is to ask “so how does this involve me?” It is vital that writers prescribe courses of action to motivate their audience. First, writers should concede that they may have overlooked an option; perhaps there are other ways to resolve the problem without calling meetings and sending out intimidating memos. Second, writers should show how they are willing to participate in the solution by suggesting their willingness to meet with a third party, the party in question, or others. This shows that writers have good will toward the organization.
One of the quickest ways to frustrate someone is to surprise him or her by either copying a complaint to both him or her and their boss (skipping over the chain of command) or waiting until the end of the day to introduce a problem. This is likely to compromise the complaint’s effectiveness and alienate the writer from his or her audience. Once the audience is alienated, co-workers and employers may not express any empathy toward the writer, his or her concerns may not be addressed in a timely manner, the message may be ignored, or the writer may receive a flippant email. Rather than take readers by surprise writers should address concerns as soon as possible and with as much decorum and diplomacy as possible.
Many people become frustrated with a co-worker, boss, or office policy and have the need to vent that frustration. However, there are some serious problems with flaming and it should happen sparingly in emails. Activity: (read the following email to the audience) “I am so sick and tired of all the crap that goes on in this office. Judy is the most annoying person that I’ve ever known and she hardly ever gets her work done in a timely manner and I’m tired of watching her do nothing. Besides that, every time I try and get help Larry just acts like there isn’t a problem. I am SO CLOSE TO QUITTING! I swear that if someone says another thing to me I am out the door honestly. The procedures in here are only for certain people and the rest are favorites. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think this problem can be solved until Judy is fired.” Discussion: Have the audience think about the ramifications of sending this email. Who will be hurt? How? What could have been done by the writer earlier to avoid this build up of frustration? Might the writer have some legitimate concerns that are masked by his or her anger? What might be a better way to write about those concerns?
It is easy for writers to let their guards down when communicating electronically because they are not actually getting immediate feedback. The nature of communication changes. Sometimes people tend to do and say things over email and on electronic mailing lists that they would never do in an office meeting or face to face with a co-worker. It is essential to understand how unproductive flaming emails are and the snowball effect they can have in the office (because they can be forwarded or printed). Do not use obscene or abusive language and do not flame in a public forum like a message group or electronic mailing list.
If a writer is compelled to flame and must blow off some steam then he or she must take the time to forewarn the receiver by letting them know which part of the email is the venting portion. Email is public so remember that you do not want to send something that may come back to haunt them. Also remember that even though writers may take the precautions of using the flame format, they may still offend the reader. *Angell and Heslop
When responding to a flame, the respondent must do his or her best to remain professional and neutral. Emails are infamous for creating misunderstandings. Try to be as clear as possible and as empathetic as possible. If none of the above tactics work then it is most appropriate to take this concern outside of the electronic sphere and into the traditional interpersonal (face to face) sphere. *Angell and Heslop
Not all messages are best delivered via email. There are many instances when one should stop and say, “It’s time to meet or talk in person because we’ve gotten as far as we can through email.” Generally, most people are agreeable to talking in person. Because of the facelessness of email there are a number of misunderstandings and misperceptions that can occur.
Ideazfirst Training, Email Etiquette
Training - IdeazfirstEmail Etiquette Workshop
Why is email etiquette important? We all interact with the printed word as though it has apersonality and that personality makes positive andnegative impressions upon us. Without immediate feedback your document can easilybe misinterpreted by your reader, so it is crucial thatyou follow the basic rules of etiquette to construct anappropriate tone.
The elements of email etiquette General format Writing long messages Attachments The curse of surprises Flaming Delivering information Delivering bad news Electronic Mailing Lists
General Format: The Basics Write a salutation foreach new subject email. Try to keep the emailbrief (one screen length). Return emails within thesame time you would aphone call. Check for punctuation,spelling, andgrammatical errors Use caps whenappropriate. Format your email forplain text rather thanHTML. Use a font that has aprofessional or neutrallook.
General Format: Character Spacing Try to keep your line length at 80 characters or less. If your message is likely to be forwarded, keep it to 60characters or less. Set your email preferences to automatically wrapoutgoing plain text messages.
General Format: Lists and BulletsWhen you are writingdirections or want toemphasize important points,number your directions orbullet your main points.For example,1) Place the paper indrawer A.2) Click the green “start”button.Another example,• Improve customersatisfaction.• Empower employees.
General Format: Tone• Write in a positive tone“When you complete thereport.” instead of “If youcomplete the report.”• Avoid negative wordsthat begin with “un, non,ex” or that end with“less” (useless, non-existent, ex-employee,undecided).• Use smiles , winks ;),and other graphicalsymbols only whenappropriate.• Use contractions to adda friendly tone.(don’t, won’t, can’t).
General Format: Addresses Avoid sending emails tomore than fouraddresses at once. Instead, create a mailinglist so that readers donot have to scroll toomuch before getting tothe actual message.To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Attachments When you are sendingan attachment tell yourrespondent what thename of the file is, whatprogram it is saved in,and the version of theprogram. “This file is in MSWord2000 under the name“LabFile.”
General Tips for Electronic Mailing Lists Avoid discussing private concerns and issues. It is okay to address someone directly on the list. Ex,“Hi Leslie, regarding your question” Change the subject heading to match the content ofyour message. When conflict arises on the list speak in person withthe one with whom you are in conflict.
When your message is long Create an “elevator” summary. Provide a table of contents on the first screen of youremail. If you require a response from the reader then be sureto request that response in the first paragraph of youremail. Create headings for each major section.
Elevator Summary and Table of Contents An elevator summaryshould have all the maincomponents of theemail.“Our profit margin for thelast quarter went down5%. As a result I amproposing budgetadjustment for thefollowing areas…” Table of contents“This email containsA. Budget projections forthe last quarterB. Actual performance forthe last quarterC. Adjustment proposalD. Projected profitability”
Delivering InformationAbout Meetings,Orientations, Processes Include an elevatorsummary and table ofcontents with headings. Provide as muchinformation as possible. Offer the reader anopportunity to receivethe information via mail ifthe email is tooconfusing.
Delivering Bad News Deliver the news upfront. Avoid blamingstatements. Avoid hedging words orwords that soundambiguous. Maintain a positiveresolve.
Delivering Bad NewsDeliver the news up front:“We are unable to ordernew computers thisquarter due to budgetcuts.”Avoid blaming:“I think it will be hard torecover from this, butwhat can I do to help?”Avoid using “weasel words”or hedging:“Our pricing structure isoutdated.”More examples of hedgingare:Intents and purposesPossibly, most likelyPerhaps, maybe
Writing a complaint• You should briefly statethe history of theproblem to providecontext for your reader.• Explain the attempts youmade previously toresolve the problem.• Show why it is critical forthe problem to beresolved by your reader.• Offer suggestions onways you think it can beresolved or how you arewilling to help in thematter.
Writing a complaintBriefly state the history:“The current way wechoose officers for ourorganization is notdemocratic. As a result,we have a popularitycontest that does notalways get us the bestcandidates.”Show attempts made byyou thus far to resolvethe issue:“I have offered twoalternatives for officerselection that stillinvolves the votes of themembers but both havebeen rejected by theexecutive board.”
Writing a complaintShow why it is important for your reader to get involved:“This is a problem for two reasons. First, I am concernedthat the executive board no longer protects theinterests of the organization and that their actions arenot in keeping with the constitution of the organization.Second, there have been a number of complaints fromthe members who feel that their concerns andpreferences are not being addressed by the executiveboard, which decreases morale and productivity.”
Writing a complaintAsk for help and offer a resolution:“Please let me know what other options I may haveoverlooked. I am willing to meet with the departmenthead and the executive board to seek out a solutionthat is fair to the members and is good for the businessof the organization. ”
Do not take your readerby surprise or pressthem to the wall• Do not wait until the endof the day to introduce aproblem or concern viamemo or email.• Avoid writing a litany ofconcerns that you havebeen harboring for along period of time.
Flaming in emails• Flaming is a virtual termfor venting or sendinginflammatory messagesin email.• Avoid flaming becauseit tends to create agreat deal of conflictthat spirals out ofcontrol.• Flame fights are theequivalent of food fightsand tend to affectobservers in a verynegative way.• What you say cannot betaken back; it is in blackand white.
Keep flaming undercontrol• Before you send anemail message, askyourself, “would I saythis to this person’sface?”• Calm down beforeresponding to amessage that offendsyou. Once you send themessage it is gone.Read your messagetwice before you send itand assume that youmay be misinterpretedwhen proofreading.
When you need to flame There are times whenyou may need to blow offsome steam. Remember youraudience and yoursituation before sendingthe email.Here’s a way to flame:Flame OnYour messageFlame Off
Responding to a flame Empathize with thesender’s frustration andtell them they are right ifthat is true If you feel you are right,thank them for bringingthe matter to yourattention Explain what led to theproblem in question Avoid getting boggeddown by details andminor arguments If you are aware that thesituation is in theprocess of beingresolved let the readerknow at the top of theresponse Apologize if necessary
When Email Won’t Work There are times when youneed to take your discussionout of the virtual world andmake a phone call. If things become very heated,a lot of misunderstandingoccurs, or when you aredelivering very delicate newsthen the best way is still face-to face.