Rainbow - Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Email Etiquette explains the ideal, and most acceptable behaviour when emailing – whether to friends and family, or for business.

Email to Communicate

Today the bulk of western society, and large portions of other societies regularly communicate by email. Email communication might be as simple as an inquiry about a product one is interested in purchasing, or a complex explanation of a problem in order to source a solution, or perhaps it is a personal communication which thirty years ago would have required us to write a letter, sign it, put it in an envelope and address it, then put a stamp on it and take it to the post box for delivery.

Many more reasons exist for creating and sending emails, including business. A whole industry exists around advertising sales which are sourced using the telephone and backed with a sales pitch by email. All of these forms of email share a common factor and that is that they are forms of communication.

Just as someone asks information of you face to face, or delivers a sales pitch, or catches up after a long period of not seeing each other, the email is a form of communication – people to people – sentient beings at either end. The presence of a screen between the two (or more) communicators is sometimes seen as something to hide behind, an excuse for not treating your correspondent with utter respect.

Why have Email Etiquette

Use email etiquette to properly offer that respect, and thereby improve your communications out of sight.

The lack of respect delivered by the emails many people send is often unintended – they are not even aware of what is conveyed by failing to use even basic etiquette. What is conveyed by this failure is the message that your correspondent doesn’t merit your respect – it denigrates them, and it doesn’t take much to work out that once your correspondent recognises this lack of respect, that they might feel morally justified in devaluing you, both as a person, and what you might have to offer.

Email Etiquette

The rules are the same as they are for hard copy correspondence, and they’re universal:

  1. Always offer a salutation or greeting e.g. Dear Sir, Dear John, etc. If you know the person well, or there is a sustained exchange of emails, the salutation may be dropped after the initial couple of exchanges.
  2. Always sign off using a valediction and signature/name e.g. “best regards”, “yours sincerely”, or whatever is appropriate for your correspondent. As with salutations, this can be dropped after the initial couple of emails if you are engaged in a flurry of emails with your correspondent. If you are doing business, never leave the sign-off because it is the signature which seals a deal.
  3. Always respond to every email communication no matter how tedious. It lets the other person know their email has been received; and as an aside, gets you a reputation of being both efficient and reliable. Mainly it’s just plain common courtesy. I respect you enough to let you know that I have received your email.
  4. If you don’t receive a response to an email you send, leave it for 24 hours,(because sometimes cyberspace will disgorge the missing communication) and then email a second time politely requesting a response. One courteous way to do this is to say something like: I wondered whether you had received my email. Occasionally mine go missing in cyberspace and I wanted to be certain it had reached you.

Alternatively, you can attach an automated request for acknowledgement on the email, or you can ask politely for acknowledgement of receipt in the body of your text e.g. I’d be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this email.

  1. Always use the header line – it helps the receiver to find that email later, and it indicates the topic, and therefore a sense of priority in opening your particular email. It shows you have considered the recipient.
  2. Are you one of these people who blindly sends everyone in your address book the latest jokes, and YouTube snips without adding a personal message? Some people will happily send off five or six of these, one after the other, to anyone they can think of. And the problem is that they think of the person, but not enough to recognise they’ve just sent half an hour to an hour’s worth of reading material without even so much as a, Hi, how are you? Busy people simply don’t need an hour’s worth of extra reading in their day – think about your correspondent – really think about them before sending these pestilential emails, which lack any form of genuine communication, to all and sundry.
  3. Lastly, read your email through before pushing, send, because you’d be amazed at how many errors you can miss. It’s another form of courtesy. By making your email error-free, you make it much easier to read and absorb. It’s considering the other person.

©Theresa Sjoquist

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