E-mail 101: The Dos and Don'ts
You would be amazed at some of the pure gibberish that
arrives in my e-mailbox on a regular basis.
Many people seem to think that because they aren't dealing
directly with another person (or as directly as they would
be face-to-face or by telephone), all forms of civility and
basic respect for the other person (i.e. the recipient),
and the English language, can go out the proverbial window.
Not true! Writing e-mails is still communicating. Both the
recipient and the language still deserve your respect.
The following Dos and Don'ts of writing e-mails have been
adapted from my eBook entitled "Instant Home Writing Kit".
The first version of these appeared in another one of my
books "Internet Basics without fear!" (1999,2000).
E-MAIL DOS AND DON'TS
DO... Use A Descriptive Subject Line
There is nothing more annoying than receiving e-mails in
your e-Inbox with no heading, or a heading that does not
explain what the contents of the message is all about.
When one receives multiple messages every day, the
subject-line is important when reviewing and prioritizing
e-mail that is in one's mailbox. Also, if you include a
descriptive title, your message is almost guaranteed to
be read before the ones with blank or meaningless titles.
Tip: I even revise the Subject Line when I am sending a
Reply, to reflect the essence of my response. This is
especially useful if it's one of those e-mails that
travels back and forth 3 or 4 times. Often, there is
little relationship between the point of the first
message and the later ones. So, try revising the
Subject Line slightly each time to reflect the content
of the current reply.
DO... Use Opening And Closing Salutations
Some people have forgotten that e-mail is interpersonal
communication between human beings. Basic civility still
There is nothing much more impersonal than receiving an
e-mail that doesn't at least say "Hello..." or "Hi..."
for the opening; and "Regards..." or "Thanks..." or
"Take care..." or "All the best...", or something similar
as the closing.
We can't personally sign the note by hand anymore, but we
can surely personalize it a little bit by at least typing
in the recipient's name and then wishing them the best.
DO... Use Capital Letters Sparingly
The use of all-caps is shunned on the Internet. It's called
SHOUTING. Every once in a while a word or two in capitals
for particular emphasis is ok, but avoid overdoing it.
Tip: Cutesy little smiles and similar symbols, known as
emoticons, should also be used sparingly. :-) I advise you
not to use these symbols at all in business e-mails, unless
the recipient is a friend or well-known to you. Just as
with business letters, the principle underlying business
e-mails is: clear and concise businesslike communication
with a minimum of clutter. '-)
DO... Check Spelling, Grammar, and Format
Make a point to ensure that your e-mail is relatively
readable. It doesn't have to be a work of art, but at least
respect the basic rules of spelling and grammar. Most
e-mail programs have a spell-checker option. Use it.
Tip: For better readability, break your e-mail into short
1,2, or 3 sentence paragraphs with a blank line between
paragraphs. (i.e. double hard-return).
DO... Watch Out For "E-mail Rage"
Many an e-mail has been composed and sent when a person
was in an angry or upset state (referred to as "flaming").
Many people have lived to regret these indiscretions in
the cold sober light of the next hour, or the next day.
Remember, whenever the Send button has been clicked, your
e-mail is gone.
Tip: When you compose an e-mail while in an "upset state",
it is always a good idea to save it as a draft for an hour
or two and then read it over carefully at least once before
sending it, just to make sure you are communicating what
you really want to, in a clear and respectful way.
DON'T... Forward Junk Mail To Others
From time to time, people to whom we have given our e-mail
address will have momentary lapses in judgment (yes, even
friends and family) and will forward "junk mail" to you.
These are often long rambling stories, urban myths, scraps
of wisdom, chain letters, collections of jokes, or such,
that are prevalent around the Net.
This is the equivalent of opening your regular mail box at
home and finding it loaded with unsolicited and unwanted
promotional letters and advertising flyers. Would you
forward those to your friends or family? Do you? I didn't
When you receive one of these in your e-Inbox, DO NOT
forward it on to someone else. Kill it then and there.
This kind of unsolicited junk mail is known as "spam",
and is definitely not acceptable on the Net.
If a friend or acquaintance sends one to you, politely
e-mail them back asking if they would please be kind
enough to remove your name from their distribution list
for that type of item. Explain that you are already
inundated with this "type" of unsolicited e-mail.
Usually, they will take the hint and accommodate you.
DON'T... Think That E-Mail Is Instantaneous
Believe it or not, e-mail is not as reliable as a telephone
call when it comes to timely communication!
The Internet is a loosely connected network of computers
and telecommunications equipment owned, operated, and
managed by many independent companies, institutions, and
Your e-mail must often travel a complex and circuitous
route to get to its destination. For example, if someone
schedules maintenance on a computer or a piece of equipment
on the network that your e-mail must pass through, your
message may be delayed and you won't even know it.
Also, who is to guarantee that the intended recipient even
checks their e-mail regularly? Many people only check their
e-mail every few days. So, if your communication is urgent,
use the standard telephone. It is still the only way to be
absolutely sure that a message has been received at a
particular point in time.
DON'T... Forget To Check Your E-mail Regularly
There is nothing more frustrating than sending an e-mail
to someone and then having them tell you on the telephone a
week later that they haven't seen your message because the
last time they checked their e-mail was a week ago!
If you want people to take your e-mails seriously, make
sure that you take theirs seriously too. So, check your
e-mail regularly; at least every two or three days.
The bottom line to all of this is simple. Remember that
e-mail is just another form of interpersonal communication.
People deserve the same amount of respect and civility as
you would give them in a telephone call or a regular letter.
See THE guide to e-mail writing and more at: InstantHomeWritingKit.com
(C) Shaun Fawcett is webmaster of two of the most visited writing help websites on the Net. He is also the author of several best selling "writing toolkit" eBooks. All of his eBooks and his world famous f-r-e-e Writing Success Course are available at:
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