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Top Ten Email Tips

Jun 11, 2008
Most of us weren't born with a genetic predisposition for email, so it's only natural to take a few missteps along the way. If you want to look like an email pro and avoid the most common errors, follow these 'Netiquette' tips:

1. Use the Subject Line - Always include a brief Subject line that provides some insight into the focus of your email. Given the volume of email that most people receive, the Subject line is becoming a "must-have" if you want your message to be read or noticed. Avoid generic "Hi" or non-specific Subject lines that tell the recipient nothing. Some spam filters will block messages without a Subject line, so for the scant few seconds it requires to enter a few words, it's in your best interest to always include a Subject.

2. Don't Forget the Bcc Field - When sending email to multiple recipients, place email addresses in the Bcc field (Blind Carbon, Courtesy, or Cyber Copy, depending who you ask) to hide them, unless you specifically want each recipient to know who received your message. In this day and age when many people protect their email addresses as aggressively as they do their unlisted telephone numbers, it is grotesquely inappropriate to publish all recipient email addresses without permission.

3. Cool Off! - Never send an email written in anger. If you're upset, go ahead and write your email, pound the keyboard, stomp your feet, vent your spleen to your heart's content, but do not send it. After you've spewed your digital venom, save the message and review it a minimum of 12 hours later. Chances are you'll be very glad you didn't send it--a phenomenon known as "dodging a digital bullet."

4. Personalize Your Message - Email is informal, but it still needs a greeting. It can be "Dear Mr. Smith," or "Dear Bill," "Hi Susan," or "Yo, Joe," but failure to use the recipient's name can make your message seem a bit cold and aloof, even if that's not your intention.

5. Sign it - Conclude a message with your name, and in most instances, first name alone is fine, particularly if your full name appears in the From: field. If only your email address appears in the From: field, and your address provides no clue as to your identity, it's even more important to sign your message. Most email programs will permit you to create a signature block which can include your full name, address, and other contact information, if you wish. Don't overdo the signature line, though. Nobody cares about your life's philosophy. Save it for your autobiography.

6. Tone Matters - More than 90 percent of face-to-face communication is non-verbal. Because email has no accompanying body language or facial expressions, and the reader cannot hear the tone of your voice, choose your words carefully. Sarcasm, for example, doesn't always translate well via email, but using an emoticon or other parenthetical, e.g. (laughing), can help. Try to place yourself in the recipient's position and think how your words might be perceived or even more importantly, misperceived.

7. Check Your Spelling - In the early days of email, spelling errors were generally accepted or at least overlooked. We were a simpler people back then, but those days are pretty much gone. While spell-checking is certainly not as important when communicating with casual friends or dysfunctional family members, other individuals will form immediate impressions about you from your messages. Integrated spell-checkers make it easier than ever to use correct spelling. Proper capitalization (never type messages in ALL CAPS) and correct punctuation can't hurt, either. Keep in mind that your messages represent you, and particularly within a business context, that can cost you.

8. Get to the Point - Try to keep your messages succinct, to the point, and be generous with your paragraphing. No recipient wants to be confronted by a massive, wall-to-wall screen of text. That's a good way to ensure that you either won't receive a response, or that your message is quickly skimmed, or moved directly into the Trash folder.

9. Nothing is "Off the Record" - Never write in email that you wouldn't want the world (or your mother) to see. Once a message has departed your mailbox, you have no control over where it will end up. Diamonds are forever; email lasts even longer.

10. Patience is a Virtue - Don't expect an immediate response. Not every person is sitting in front of his or her computer checking email. People check messages at their convenience and respond at a time when it's best for them. If your communication is so vitally important that you need a response right away, use the telephone.

Happy emailing!
About the Author
Mr. Modem (MrModem.com) is an author, syndicated columnist, radio host, and publisher of the wildly popular, always entertaining, Pulitzer-lacking weekly "Ask Mr. Modem" computer-help newsletter. Mr. Modem's columns appear in more than 300 publications and each month in "Smart Computing" magazine. Visit MrModem.com for additional information, to view a sample issue, or to subscribe.
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