Mind your netiquette

Email has changed the way we do business. It’s fast and less intrusive than a phone call. But are you making the right impression?

Email makes it easier than ever to communicate with people around the globe, whether for business, research, education – or simply the enjoyment of keeping in touch with friends, family or business associates.

Yet unlike speaking face-to-face, communicating via email is riddled with pitfalls for potential misunderstandings and wrong impressions. Unlike a face-to-face meeting or a conversation over the telephone, misunderstandings cannot always be immediately repaired. Further, email offers little opportunity for nuance; you can’t soften words by your tone of voice or rephrase a comment or use body language to facilitate understanding.

All of which makes it all the more important that you choose your language carefully – and follow good netiquette – when composing email messages.

Netiquette, or network etiquette, refers to how people interact with each other via email. Here are some guidelines to avoid potential misunderstandings and create a good impression by putting your best – email – forward.

Communicate professionally. Be sure to use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and paragraph structure. Keep your paragraphs short and separate them with blank lines to facilitate faster reading. Other tips include:

• Avoid trendy abbreviations such as ‘u’ for you in formal business communications. Emoticons, or combinations of keyboard characters that convey emotion when viewed sideways such as a smiley face = 🙂 should also be used sparingly in formal communications.

• Do not capitalize whole words that are not titles as this is generally considered SHOUTING to your reader. Instead consider using an *asterisk* around a word to emphasize a point.

• Use strong subject lines that describe the message content. This allows for easier filing and message retrieval.

• Avoid misinterpretation of dates by spelling out the month. (Example: 29 Mar 07 or Mar 29 07.)

• Use request delivery and read receipt sparingly. Instead ask for a response within your email message.

• Limit the list of recipients and Cc:’s only to the people who are directly involved with the subject.

• For mass e-mailings use the Bcc: field or a mail merge.

• Always proof your message before pushing the send button. Remember: any message you send is permanent.

• Create a separate signature for business and personal use, if necessary.

Mind your manners. As with other forms of communication, remembering to say “Please” and “Thank you” can go a long way. And think twice before you push the send button: unlike personal conversations that can fade with time, emails are forever. A few other considerations when composing your email message:

• Humor, irony, sarcasm, and wit don’t usually come off well in a business email and in fact can be easily misinterpreted.

• Take a deep breath before responding. Emails, perhaps more than other forms of communication, can elicit strong emotion. A misunderstanding can be quickly exacerbated by a hasty cycle of message/response. If you find yourself upset by an email, first re-read the message to make sure you haven’t misunderstood. Once you draft a response, consider saving it until you’ve had a chance to cool off – alternatively, you may want to pick up the phone and talk the situation through. Remember since emails can be remain in someone’s inbox indefinitely – or printed out and circulated – they can acquire a level of importance never intended.