But despite the fact that we’re glued to our reply buttons, career coach Barbara Pachter says plenty of professionals still don’t know how to use email appropriately.
In fact, because of the sheer volume of messages we’re reading and writing each day, we may be more prone to making embarrassing errors — and those mistakes can have serious professional consequences.
Pachter outlines the basics of modern email etiquette in her book “The Essentials Of Business Etiquette.” We pulled out the most essential rules you need to know.
Vivian Giang contributed to an earlier version of this article.
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 on the list needs to receive the email, Pachter says.
Don't use laid-back, colloquial expressions like, 'Hey you guys,' 'Yo,' or 'Hi folks.'
'The relaxed nature of our writings should not affect the salutation in an email,' she says. 'Hey is a very informal salutation and generally it should not be used in the workplace. And Yo is not ok either. Use Hi or Hello instead.'
She also advises against shortening anyone's name. Say 'Hi Michael,' unless you're certain he prefers to be called 'Mike.'
Humour can easily get lost in translation without the right tone or facial expressions. In a professional exchange, it's better to leave humour out of emails unless you know the recipient well. Also, something that you think is funny might not be funny to someone else.
Pachter says: 'Something perceived as funny when spoken may come across very differently when written. When in doubt, leave it out.'
It's difficult to reply to every email message ever sent to you, but you should try to, Pachter says. This includes when the email was accidentally sent to you, especially if the sender is expecting a reply. A reply isn't necessary but serves as good email etiquette, especially if this person works in the same company or industry as you.
Here's an example reply: 'I know you're very busy, but I don't think you meant to send this email to me. And I wanted to let you know so you can send it to the correct person.'
'You don't want to send an email accidentally before you have finished writing and proofing the message,' Pachter says. '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.'
Purple Comic Sans has a time and a place (maybe?), but for business correspondence, keep your fonts, colours, and sizes classic.
The cardinal rule: Your emails should be easy for other people to read.
'Generally, it is best to use 10- or 12- point type and an easy-to-read font such as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman,' Pachter advises. As for colour, black is the safest choice.
Always remember what former CIA chief General David Petraeus apparently forgot, warns Pachter: Every electronic message leaves a trail.
'A basic guideline is to assume that others will see what you write,' she says, 'so don't write anything you wouldn't want everyone to see.' A more liberal interpretation: Don't write anything that would be ruinous to you or hurtful to others. After all, email is dangerously easy to forward, and it's better to be safe than sorry.
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