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    Even though technology changes rapidly, the rules of business and social etiquette do not. These tips provide a handy reference tool to make your emails more efficient, effective, and enjoyable—both to create and to read.

    Tip 1: Check Multiple Email Accounts Promptly

    When you are in a job transition, when you want to separate your social correspondence from your business, or when you’re on the road, you may make use of multiple email boxes. That’s understandable and inexpensive.

    But if you have multiple email accounts for whatever reason, check your mail on all accounts promptly. You may know that one address is your primary mailbox, but others may not. And because the medium is email, senders expect a much faster response than a look-see once a week.

    Tip 2: Avoid Using All Uppercase or All Lowercase

    Writers use either all uppercase or lowercase because they think it’s faster to keyboard without holding the Shift key. They’re correct—it is faster for the sender...but not for the reader.

    Which of the following two emails do you prefer to read?

    DO NOT STOP BY. FYI I’M LEAVING FOR THE NEA ASAP VIA LA. I’M HOPING TO CONNECT WITH JOHN IN INTERNATIONAL COFFEE SHOP. SO IF HE CALLS HAVE SUE TELL HIM WHERE OFF AIRPORT ROUTE. ETA STILL NOT CLEAR. SEMINAR ROOM TBD. TELL HIM TO BRING THE MDG MODEL WITH HIM. MAY NEED TO DEMO.

    Do not stop by. fyi i'm leaving for the nea asap via la. i'm hoping to connect with john in international coffee shop. so if he calls have sue tell him where off airport route. eta still not clear. seminar room tbd. tell him to bring the mdg model with him. may need to demo.

    Neither would be immediately clear. Uppercase and lowercase letters are reading aids that signal a reader about sentence beginnings (new thoughts), proper nouns, and acronyms. Besides making your email more difficult to read, all uppercase is interpreted as shouting, and all lowercase, as lazy.

    Tip 3: Highlight Responses in Color to Aid Reading

    Rather than simply hitting the reply key and keyboarding your answers after each specific question or keyboard all your answers either above or below the original message, use your color pen to highlight your responses (Provided, of course, you know your other internal readers’ email supports color). Your answers will stand out dramatically.

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    Tip 4: Cut and Paste Rather Than Hit “Reply” on Long, Continuing Emails

    Don’t make recipients read through long lines of their previous email to find your two-sentence reply. Delete all the other background or explanatory information originally sent and leave only the pertinent questions along with your responses. Or, cut the pertinent questions and paste them into a new email, accompanied with your responses.

    Although not so critical when you’re responding only to the original writer of the email (because they can more easily distinguish between their original message and your responses), others who may be copied on your reply will have difficulty in separating the original comments from the responses.

    Tip 5: Be Wary of Humor or Sarcasm

    Humor is extremely difficult to convey in writing because you do not have the same body language “softeners” (a twinkle in the eye, a smile, a shrug of the shoulders) that provide interpretation clues in face-to-face conversations. That’s why comedy writers earn big bucks. Either make sure your humor works, use the typical sideways smiley face as a label, or don’t try it.

    Neither is sarcasm any more acceptable in email than in face-to-face communication. Sending off a scathing attack with some disclaimer about “the humor-impaired should skip this message” does not rule out offense and mitigate the criticism. In short, don’t write anything in email that you wouldn’t want forwarded to your CEO, your customers, your family, or your friends.

    Tip 6: Allow Cool-Off Time Before Sending a Flame or Any Emotional Message

    Sending negative messages that contain insensitive, insulting, negative, and critical comments are called flames. Before you flame, cool off. Once you hit the “send” button, you’re committed.

    As a safety valve, leave an emotionally charged message in your out-box or drafts folder for an hour or a day. Ask yourself: Would I say this face to face? Remember that there really is another live person on the receiving end.

    Particularly, avoid flaming in public. If you must send a negative message to someone who originated a message, do not post your flame or send it to an entire distribution list. Even in the old TV westerns, the cowboys “stepped outside” to start a fistfight. Others really do not appreciate being involved in a personal debate or insulting email match.

  • About the Author

    Dianna Booher’s extensive and ongoing research and published works in the field of business communication and productivity serve as the foundation for over 40 books on communication skills training . Dianna has received the highest awards in the professional speaking industry, including induction into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame®. She is a member of the prestigious Speakers Roundtable. As a result of Dianna's work among top corporations on communication issues, Executive Excellence magazine has recognized Dianna on its list of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in America. Additionally, Successful Meetings magazine named Dianna on its list of 21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century! Dianna has been interviewed by Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, USA Today, the Washington Post, New York Newsday, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal Radio, National Public Radio, Bloomberg, Investors Business Daily, Fox Family Network, Reader's Digest, Working Woman, Industry Week, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, Success, Entrepreneur, among other national radio, TV, and newspapers. She holds a master's degree in English from the University of Houston.

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Email Matters

Even though technology changes rapidly, the rules of business and social etiquette do not. These tips provide a handy reference tool to make your emails more efficient, effective, and enjoyable—both to create and to read.

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