The Recipe for Perfect Email Etiquette
Email: your greatest convenience and your worst distraction. Chances are, if you’re roaming around Roubler for info on employment, time and attendance software, workforce management (and pretty much anything else we do) sending and receiving emails is essential to your workday.
Are your emails clear, efficient and professional? Or, are your co-workers moaning and groaning as they navigate the daily flood of spelling errors you send to their inbox? Well, fear no more, because the unwritten rules of email etiquette have finally been written down for you! Sure, you may think you’ve heard it all before. Actually, you probably have… But I can guarantee that you’ve still committed a few heinous email faux pas in the past week – maybe even today.
This will be the last article you ever read on email etiquette because it’s finally to stick with you, and here’s why: constructing the perfect email is like creating the perfect burger. Yes, you read that right. You’ve got to get all of the individual elements right if you want a great end result – especially if you want the people you’re sharing it with to enjoy it too. Sound a bit far fetched? Well, maybe I’m just hungry… But bad email manners will have much harsher implications on your career than a bad burger.
Here’s the etiquette refresher recipe your career (and your co-workers) won’t survive without.
The Basics: Getting The Right Ingredients
Before you create a masterpiece, you start with specific raw ingredients. So, before we break down the specific components of email, let’s take a quick look at the essentials. (If you’re going to forget or skip a section of this article, make sure it’s not this one.)
- Have an appropriate email address. If you’re using your personal email for work (which is fine unless you’re Hilary Clinton) then that email still needs to sound professional. Your email represents you in your online communications, and “Party_Chick_123@hotmail.com” is setting you up to fail.
- Don’t send emails when you’re emotional, and don’t instantly respond to emotional emails from others. If your blood is boiling or someone’s sent you a harsh message, step back from the situation and assess with a cool head. Retorting in the heat of the moment will only fuel the fire.
- Just like in real-life social interactions, a friendly greeting and closing makes all the difference. The content of your message will come across polished and professional.
- Proofread! Proofread everything or forever live with your missteaks.
Timing: Rare, Medium, or Well-Done?
Timing is a delicate balance – you don’t want to be eating your food raw but you don’t want to be kept waiting on it forever (too far with the burger analogy?). When you’re wading your way through your inbox, it’s easy to forget about effective rates of replying. But if you’ve ever sent a lengthy, carefully crafted message to receive an immediate one-word response, or, if you’ve anxiously waited for weeks on someone’s reply to a pertinent email, you’ll understand that the art of timing deserves a lot more attention.
- Here’s a new rule to live by: respond as soon as you’re realistically able to. This will keep your inbox manageable and the people you’re emailing happy.
- Don’t rush replies that need more time and thought. While it’s tempting to fire off hasty, thoughtless replies to reduce your workload, it’s far more effective to let the sender know you’ve received their email and that you’re taking time to think their message through and formulate a response.
- Quick tip: the length of your response should increase proportionally to the time you take to respond. Longer wait = longer email.
Recipients: Dinner Guests!
It’s important to share your creation with the right people, who want or need what you’re offering… Email chains that never end. People who CC you on messages that have absolutely nothing to do with you. Co-workers who have no idea how to use that nifty little BCC field (this short list alone is stressing me out). We all know the overwhelming agony and dread that comes when others commit these email sins, but let’s look in the mirror for a brief moment. When was the last time you went against any of these rules on email etiquette?
- “Reply All” is a very special email feature, and as such it should be reserved for very special occasions. Think long and hard before you decide that everyone in that thread needs to be updated or face the quiet disapproval of your peers.
- Learn to love BCC and don’t be afraid to use it. It’s particularly helpful when the addresses of all recipients don’t need to be visible to everyone.
- Quick tip: addressing an email “To” someone means that you expect his or her response. When you “CC” a person you are keeping them in the loop.
- Less is more, and the less people you include as recipients the better. Too many cooks in the kitchen and all that.
Subject Line: Naming Your Burger
Just like every good burger has a snazzy name on the menu, every good email has a subject line. It’s the first part of your message that people lay eyes on, and it can transform the way your email is received. And a bad subject is just like a bad menu description: distasteful.
- People want to know what they’re getting themselves into, so make your subject line specific. Vague phrases like “Hello” or “Checking In” are a waste of your precious subject line. Recipients should know what your message is about at a glance, and it will make it easier to relocate in future.
- Short and sweet. Find a balance between being specific and being concise; anything longer than 10 words belongs in the email itself.
- Please, for the sake of inboxes everywhere, do not leave the subject field blank. No matter what kind of hurry you’re in, spare your recipient the 5 seconds it takes to throw something together. No one likes a “No Subject” email hovering ominously in their inbox.
Email Body: The Filling
Ah, the good stuff – this is the meat of your message. While all of the other elements are significant, this is the defining part of your email and your reason for messaging should be made clear. Sure, workplace communications are more casual than ever before, but you don’t want your emails to deteriorate into a disarray of slang, lowercase letters, and emojis. Follow these guidelines to remain polished and professional in adapting work environments.
- Keep with the theme: clear and concise. If you find yourself typing out pages and pages of text, arrange a meeting or a phone call.
- Follow the basic writing rules of capitalization, punctuation, proper sentence structure, and resist the temptation to communicate with emojis. 😀
- Include clear ask or action items. You should always have a solid reason for emailing someone, whether it’s looking for a co-worker’s opinion or sourcing specific project details, make that reason explicit.
- Make it clear if no action is required. If you’re emailing to provide an update, for example, that should also be made clear. You want your recipients to walk away from your message understanding what you expect of them.
- Numbered lists and bullet points are your new best friends. Everyone’s busy, and some quick formatting will save you time writing, and your recipients will have an easier time reading.
- Bold key information so that it’s more noticeable, and stay away from the caps lock button unless you want to look like you’re YELLING.
- Stick with a simple, legible font, and use minimal font colours. This will keep your message easy and pleasant to read.
Attachments: Side Dishes
Do you really need one and does it complement the email content? Attachments are often afterthoughts, and many people just throw them in at the last minute. But, nope, this isn’t a free for all and there are still some rules you should keep in mind.
- Before you attach it, ask yourself if it’s really needed. One-page Word documents with a sentence or two can probably be left out.
- Send your file as a PDF to avoid compatibility issues, unauthorised editing, or having to resend a document down the track.
- If you’ve got a big absolutely 100% necessary attachment to send, compress or “zip” the file first.
- Attach your file before you write the body of your email, and you’ll avoid the embarrassing follow-up message admitting you forgot the attachment. (The “I forgot to send the attachment” follow-up email is one of the most painful things you will ever write and send – you’ve been warned).
Keep these steps in mind, and every email you send will be a polished, professional, clear and concise masterpiece. No excuses! If you’re rolling your eyes thinking you’ve heard all these before, I can guarantee you’ve never heard them in burger-recipe format. So, now that you have, hopefully these etiquette guidelines will finally stick (or maybe you’re just hungry).
Do you have any other email guidelines or pet-hates to add to the list? Let us know below!