When email became popular in the early 90s, it changed the way the business world communicated. Now it’s become cumbersome and fragmented. Our inboxes are now a major digital distraction, and time-waster. It’s harder than ever to to filter out the noise from the trivial many, and find the meaningful few.
A startling stat from McKinsey shows that the average worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the work week managing email and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.The average worker spends an estimated 28% of the work week managing email. Click To Tweet
With so much practice in sending and responding to emails, you’d think we’d be masters by now. While we try to work faster and more efficiently, we must not forget the basic etiquette of modern email, which every professional should know (and practice):
Include a clear subject line
The US military uses a protocol that characterises the nature of the email in the subject line:
ACTION – compulsory for the recipient to take some action
SIGN – requires the signature of the recipient
INFO – for informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
DECISION – requires a decision by the recipient
REQUEST – seeks permission or approval by the recipient
COORD – coordination by or with the recipient is needed
This system can work for anyone – not just the military.
Spell the recipient’s name correctly
Be respectful and spell the recipient’s name correctly. Many people are insulted if their name is misspelled, and it comes across clumsy and careless. Check for the correct spelling in the person’s signature block.
I’ve been subjected to the following variations on more than one occasion:
Add the email address last
You don’t want to send an email accidentally before you have finished writing and proofing the message.
Even when you are replying to a message, it’s a good precaution to delete the recipient’s address and insert it only when you are sure the message is ready to be sent.
Include a signature
Provide the recipient with some information about you. Include your name, phone number, and job title. Links to your social profiles are optional. You don’t need to include your email address because if the recipient has a message from you, they have this already.
Use the same font, type size, and color as the rest of the email.
Use a professional email address
If you work for a company, you should use your company email address. If you use a personal email account, you ideally want to have your own domain name. For example, Jeremy@jyancey.me
If this is too much, at the very least try to have your name @gmail.com. Avoid Hotmail, Outlook or AOL – they’re so 90s. If you’re worried about missing messages by shifting over to a new email address, you can easily configure your old email service to automatically reroute them to your new address.
Avoid ALL CAPS
ARE YOU YELLING? Because that’s what comes across when you use ALL CAPS.
Do you really need to ‘reply all’?
No one wants to read emails from 20 people that have nothing to do with them. Ignoring the emails can be difficult, with many people getting notifications of new messages on their smartphones or distracting pop-up messages on their computer screens.Refrain from hitting ‘reply all’ unless you really think everyone needs to receive the email #emailetiquette Click To Tweet
A big offender is the old ‘Happy Birthday’ message that does the rounds. There’s absolutely no need to reply all on these.
Avoid exclamation points
I hate these never use them. Anywhere.
As Lynne Truss – author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – so aptly puts it:
“In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practises the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.”
'The exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things.' #lynnetruss Click To Tweet
Use ‘urgent’ sparingly
If you abuse the urgent marker, it won’t be long until no one will pay any attention to it.
The truth is that 99.9% of emails are anything but urgent. The world will keep spinning and the business won’t go under. The nature of email as a communications tool actually makes it less urgent than say a direct conversation, text or phone call.The truth is that 99.9% of emails are anything but urgent. Click To Tweet
Proofread every message
Your mistakes won’t go unnoticed by the recipients of your email.
Don’t rely on spell-check. Read and reread your email a few times, preferably aloud, before sending it off.
Part of the dread of a full inbox is wondering what sort of long-winded updates, spam, and other unpleasant requests may be lurking. In an ideal world, we’d rely on emails a lot less for communications – especially within the workplace.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like email will disappear anytime soon. As long as we’re stuck with it, we may as well use it as best we can. A little extra time and attention to detail goes a long way.
What are your email pet peeves?
Content marketer, blogger, author and tech geek.