Some days, I hate my inbox. I am sure you can sympathize. Like you, I (and every other business woman) receive an average 124.5 emails a day. Yet, despite the fact that we are all glued to our screen, our email etiquette seems to have slowly disintegrated. I’ve seen emails that not only contained sloppy errors, but in some instances were downright rude – or worse, overly casual. Even seemingly innocuous errors add up. And in some instances, can have serious consequences.
I’ve outlined some basic rules of etiquette to ensure your electronic communications match your professional image.
Granted, every company culture is different, but a polite and slightly formal salutation is always appropriate. Using words like “hey” or “yo” isn’t professional, no matter who the recipient. Instead, use “hi,” ”hello,” “good morning/afternoon,” or, to be even more formal, “dear.”
Group emails can be real time savers because everyone is included in project updates or whatever else you're sending. Unfortunately, group threads can also spiral out of control and segue into separate topics that the whole group doesn’t need to be part of. Think twice before hitting reply-all to consider whether everyone really needs to be looped in.
Shortening someone’s name (if you’ve not been told he/she prefers it) is overly casual, presumptuous and, in some cases, can come across as demeaning. My name is Tiffany. Unless I know you personally, it’s not appropriate to call me “Tiff.”
Humor does not often work in email. What’s funny to one person may be offensive to others, or worse, could be misinterpreted as sarcastic or caustic.
Even though we are glued to our keyboards, there’s no need to play hostage to your inbox. If an email comes in under high priority and you know you’ll need several hours (or even days) to handle it, reply right away to acknowledge the request. Emails that hang around and gather dust in your inbox can give people the impression that you are overwhelmed or that you are ignoring their requests. Unread emails may also mean missed deadlines.
The ease of spell check means many of us rely on it to catch spelling errors, which only gets you about half way there. Consider the work “public.” If you mistype it and accidentally skip the letter “L”, the word is still spelled correctly but has an entirely different meaning! It’s also a good idea to check for missed words or words that sound the same but are spelled (and mean) something different, such as “your” and “you’re”.
This is an easy one to avoid. If you type the word “attachment” or “attach” in the body of your email, Outlook will prompt you if it looks like you forgot to attach something. One way to curtail this error is to start your note with “in the attached…”
All capital letters used in an email can come across as an affront to your recipients. If something is really important, say so or instead use bold or underline to highlight a key point or phrase.
If you have a lot to say in your email, it may be more efficient to just pick up the phone or schedule a call. Not only can a phone call save time, it can also prevent any misinterpretation of your message. After the call, document agreed points or follow-up tasks with a concise email message.
Similar to point 1, it’s just good practice to include a closing greeting. Think about the last email you received where the note just ended abruptly. Chances are, it felt less like a note and more like an order.
Remember, email, like any other form of business communication, is a direct reflection of your professionalism. Making sure your email etiquette is on point shows your colleagues that you are thoughtful, polite, and prompt in online exchanges.
Tiffany Couch is the CEO and founder of Acuity Forensics, a forensic accounting and fraud investigation firm that helps unravel complex financial crimes.
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