Think sharp. Because email is a screen-based communication, we must write for the screen, not the page; think and write in bullet points. The days of long, wordy business memos are all but over for most communications. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Longer content might be best captured as an attachment that can be printed out and read.
Size matters. Be considerate when sending emails with attachments, especially to people outside of your organisation: not everyone will have the same file size limits and fast access that you might have and a large attachment can potentially block your receiver’s email account for many minutes.
If your email account provides only a small storage capacity make sure you regularly clean out your files to ensure you have the maximum amount of space available and to avoid ‘return errors’ being sent.
Watch your tone. Business communications used to all share a fairly dull, formal tone of voice and an official looking layout. Email, being much more informal and conversational, allows for a casual and personal approach – but this can lead to misinterpretations – people can misread your tone of voice, especially if they don’t know you. There are ways to lessen the chances of inadvertently causing offence, such as: not writing complete words or sentences in capital letters (in e-speak capital letters indicate shouting); always using a greeting (‘Hi’, ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good afternoon’ are probably more common and appropriate than ‘Dear’ which is still used in printed correspondence); and using emotion icons such as :o) or :o( can be friendly and help clarify your tone or mood.
Spelll chceck. Email makes each one of us an instant author – and, that’s not necessarily a good thing! Always, always re-read your emails before you send them to make sure they make sense and to fix any spelling or grammatical errors. I recommend you set your email to automatically spell-check every message before it is sent. And if you need a second opinion to check for clarity, tone or correctness, ask a colleague to look over it for you. It might be inconsequential to you, but a poorly worded email that conveys the wrong tone and is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors can destroy your creditability and relationships.
Reply quickly. Because of its immediacy, people expect fast replies to emails. A response within 24-hours is probably as long as most people would consider appropriate. Your email practices will educate others about what to expect from you in email communications: if you respond quickly, people will expect that you’ll always respond quickly; if you set a 24-hour benchmark, likewise people will learn what to expect from you – and of course there will always be those emails which do require your immediate attention. Whatever you choose as an appropriate email turn-around, let people know what to expect, and be consistent.
Schedule email time. Email messages popping into your inbox all day long can be an enormous distraction, particularly if your email is set to alert you every time new mail arrives. To check in on your emails and respond to them as they arrive not only distracts you from whatever tasks or projects you are working on but can rob you of an entire day, responding to other people’s needs while your own are neglected. Schedule a couple or a few times each day to check and respond to emails rather than constantly looking-in on your inbox or being bounced there by your email program with every new message.
Out of office. Use your email ‘Out of Office’ facility if you are going to be unable to respond to emails within your usual timeframe – this might be because you are away or you might choose to use the ‘Out of Office’ reply to buy you some quiet time while still managing other people’s expectations of when they can expect to hear from you.
Use your BCC. In your email address block, apart from the ‘To’ field, there are generally two others ‘CC’ (carbon or courtesy copy) and ‘BCC’ (blind carbon or courtesy copy) the names of these fields are throwbacks to a time long ago when people used typewriters and carbon paper to make copies of the documents they were creating. In email, the BCC is the field we can use to send an email to someone without the other recipients knowing that they were on the recipient list or being able to see their email address. If you are sending a bulk email, put the addresses of all of your recipients in the BCC field; it protects their privacy by not disclosing their names or addresses to each other as well as makes your email communications ‘neater’ – each recipient does not receive a lengthy list of all other recipients’ details on their email.
Who needs to know? Email makes it so easy to include as many people as needed in a communication. The downside is that some people stop taking accountability for thinking about who needs to know what and just copy everyone in. Think about who needs to action your email and who really needs to read and be aware of it and only include those people in the recipient list. If you do have multiple people on an email distribution, list their name within the text of the email along with what is required of them and by when.
Use with caution. The ease and immediacy of email make it a communication tool to use with caution. The wrong email sent to the wrong person or people can have devastating implications. I know of one person who was fired after inadvertently sending the wrong email to a list of people and in doing so transmitted confidential information which was not only damaging to the individuals but exposed the organisation to legal action for breach of privacy; I know of others who have embarrassed themselves and others by mis-sending gossipy emails; and I know some friendships that have ended up on the rocks by sending the wrong email to the wrong person. Be careful about how you use email; once you click that ‘send’ button, it’s gone.