15 Rules of Email Etiquette

As technology advances, emailing has become more and more common both in the business world as well as in people’s personal lives.  Because of that, it’s important to remember proper etiquette for emailing – so important that Anders holds annual business development forum session on writing skills with a portion of it dedicated to email etiquette.

Recently, the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and former Senior Vice President of Products, Jonathan Rosenberg, wrote a book, How Google Works, which, among other things, describes the nine rules Google uses for emailing:

1. Respond quickly – prompt responses lets others know they can depend on you; and you’re more likely to get included in important discussions and decisions.  Even a short response acknowledging receipt of the email builds a positive vibe with the sender.

2. Be crisp in your delivery – know what you’re trying to convey in your message.  Every word should matter, and any useless context should be removed.

3. Clean out your inbox constantly – “Remember the old OHIO acronym: Only Hold It Once. If you read the note and know what needs doing, do it right away.  Otherwise, you are dooming yourself to rereading it, which is 100 percent wasted time.”

4. Handle email in LIFO (Last In First Out) order – there is a strong possibility that old emails have already been taken care of by someone else, especially if you’re not the only person on the email.  Working in LIFO order helps alleviate possible duplication.  However, once you have addressed the most recently received emails, don’t assume the others have been taken care of already.  Follow-up with all emails.

5. Remember, you’re a router – if someone else might find the information in an email useful, forward it on.

6. Ask yourself why you’re using BCC (blind copy) – many times, the bcc feature is used to try to hide something.  To be transparent, avoid using this feature.

7. Don’t yell – Emails can be misinterpreted, so to avoid any miscommunication, handle tense situations over the phone or in person.  Don’t type in ALL CAPS as this is perceived as yelling.  To emphasize something, bold it.

8. Make it easy to follow-up on requests – If you sent someone an email with an action item, and you later want to follow up, cc (carbon copy) yourself to the email and label it “follow up” to make it easier to find.

9. Make searching easy – Some emails contain important information that may need to be referenced later.  For these types of emails, forward it to yourself with a few keywords that describe the content.

In addition to those used by Google, a couple additional items to consider might be the following:

1. Know your audience – personal emails might be a little more casual than business emails, often using “text-speak”.  However, many times business emails may be somewhat casual, but by no means, as casual as your personal emails.  Knowing your audience is important.  Even if your audience uses text-speak, it is crucial to always remain professional, so text-speak should be avoided for all business emails.  If you’ve had significant contact with someone, you might not always address them as Mr. or Mrs., but rather by their first name.  In addition, if you’ve had emails going back and forth to the same recipient, a greeting, such as “Good morning Mr. Smith,” might not be necessary.  Finally, some recipients might appreciate the occasional smiley face :), but others might find it unprofessional.  Consider your audience before you lessen the formality of the email.

2. Proofread – NEVER send an email, personal or business, without proofreading it.  So many mistakes and misunderstandings can be avoided simply by proofreading.  Not only will this allow you to correct grammatical errors and misspellings, but many times, it will also help you to adjust the message in order for it to come across clearly to the reader.

3. Avoid using “it” – Don’t assume the reader knows what you’re referring to.  If there’s a form to sign or a template to use, describe the form or template.  Avoid saying, please sign “it” or please use “it.”  Rather, try to say, “Please sign Name of Form” or “please use Name of Template.”

4. Use lists – For lengthy emails that might require several steps or several items, first consider calling the recipient to walk through the steps or items one-by-one.  If that is not feasible or if the recipient requests an email, use lists, rather than paragraphs.  Emails with several paragraphs are often set aside until the recipient has time to read the content, which can end up never happening.  Instead, if a recipient opens an email to find a list of steps or items, it is much more user-friendly and is much more likely to be read in a timely manner.

5. Customer service – avoid pointing fingers.  The customer wants to know you are there for them, and you’ll help them get out of a bind, even if they were the ones to put themselves there.  Instead of saying it was their delay in response or their forgetfulness that caused the bind, come up with a resolution to the matter without blaming them.

6. Good will ending – Emails will often have special requests with them, whether it is a complex request, such as fundraising, or a simple request, such as a shirt size.  When responding to emails, always have a good will (or positive) ending.  For simple requests, a good will ending might just be “thank you;” however, for more complex requests, a good will ending might be “We wish you the best in your fundraising efforts and hope you are successful in your mission.”

Following the above guidelines will help to convey professionalism, a clear message, and positive rapport with the reader.