Describe it as a “modern miracle,” “time-saver,” “wonderful invention,” or “source of frustration,” e-mail has become part of most of our daily lives in the twenty-first century and carries with it certain rules and expectations from users.
Peggy Post writes, “The quest for…netiquette, has reminded us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Polite electronic communication requires that you treat others as you would have them treat you, even when interacting through the cold gray light of a computer screen.” (Emily Post’s Etiquette)
Three key considerations will help you communicate electronically politely and effectively:
- Human contact still matters. Don’t communicate electronically at the expense of personal interaction. Some things still need to be done face-to-face.
- Watch what you say—and how you say it. While the computer brings people together, its impersonal nature can lead to remarks that people wouldn’t think of saying in person. (The many discussions and debates about the Duggar Family circulating the Internet the past week is a prime example!) Do whatever it takes to remain courteous—even taping a note to the computer!
- Be careful when clicking “Send.” Whatever you say in cyberspace cannot be taken back! You have no control over where your message goes once you’ve hit “Send.” It can be forwarded by the recipient, posted on a blog, message board, or website. Words have come back to hurt people and destroy friendships or careers.
The ease of the e-mail medium has connected and reconnected people as never before, but before you begin, it’s essential to remember a few do’s and don’ts:
- Address with care! When sending an e-mail to a long list of recipients, don’t put all the addresses in the “To” and “Cc” lines. Many people do not want their e-mail addressed (which often include full names), displayed for all to see. Instead send messages individually or use the Bcc (blind carbon copy) feature.
- What’s your subject? Be sure to fill in the subject line, even in personal e-mail. Without some clue about the nature or urgency of your message, the recipients might ignore it for days or delete it if they don’t recognize your address. Alternately a busy person might open a message without a subject, to find that the message that could have been read alter in the day.
- Keep it short and sweet. One of e-mail’s benefits is that it allows us to communicate concisely and quickly. Put longer communications in attachments or deliver them by snail mail or face-to-face. If you want to send an attachment, first ask the recipient if she minds. (This is not as important if e-mail is your primary means of communicating with a friend or relative far away.)
- No yelling, please! TYPING MESSAGES IN ALL CAPITAL LETTES IS EQUIVALENT TO SHOUTING! All-caps messages are also hard to read. Capital letters can also signify “flames”—messages that are highly emotional, angry, or insulting.
- Watch those symbols. E-mail is singularly lacking in subtlety, and language that the sender finds funny or clever can easily be misunderstood by the recipient. Some senders use symbols called “emoticons” to indicate their personal state. They can hinder communication, though, if the sender isn’t sure what they mean. If used, they are better suited for casual messages between friends rather than business e-mails. The most common emoticons are:
:-) smile, happy, laugh
:-( frown sad, unhappy
:-O angry, yelling, shocked
Be careful when using on-line abbreviations, since they’ll also leave some scratching their heads. Among the most common are:
BTW by the way
IMHO in my humble opinion
IOW in other words
LOL laughing out loud
**Note: I have also read that it is not appropriate to use any emoticons or abbreviations in e-mail, but as you wouldn’t in written communication. In casual communication, though, it is becoming more widely accepted. Otherwise, write an email just as you would a formal letter.**
Many e-mail programs don’t allow for boldfacing, italicizing, or underlining words for emphasis. In this case, the usual way to add emphasis is to put asterisks on either side of the *words you want to emphasize.* An alternate method is to CAPITALIZE a few words, but not so many that it could be mistaken for shouting or flaming.
- Check it over. Although e-mail tends to be informal in style, be sure messages are clearly organized and grammatically correct. Write in complete sentence, use capitalize and punctuation (a pet peeve of mine), and check spelling—especially in business e-mails. Even when sending a casual note, give it a once-over.