Rules of email etiquette: The dos and don’ts

From being brief to minding your manners, here’s what you need to know

NO ONE needs telling that email is taking over our lives. A recent Radicati study predicted the total number of worldwide email accounts will increase to over 4.9bn by 2017. And in 2013, the majority of traffic came from business, accounting for over 100bn emails sent and received per day. But while we may be increasingly tech-savvy, we’ve yet to master e-etiquette. Here’s our brief instruction manual.

Trying to adopt a letter-like formality is a double-edged sword. “It shows politeness, but it takes longer to read, and congests inboxes,” says Andre Spicer of Cass Business School. So keep it short. If your carefully crafted essay receives a one word response, you’ve probably spent too much time on it.

Avoid using email when another medium makes more sense. Advertisers have cottoned onto the negative impact of email fatigue on direct marketing campaigns – excessive business emailing can have a similarly nefarious effect. Clogging up your recipient’s inbox won’t be appreciated.

Email may be conversational, but that’s no excuse to let the spelling and grammar slide. And not only does informal language make communicating difficult, particularly between generations, it also “makes you look unprofessional,” says Winnie Ma of Her Campus.

Since Scott Fahlman first posted the emoticon in the 1980s, they’ve become a key part of online communication. And, surprisingly, there may be a case for using them in business. “When an email is objectively positive, the receiver thinks it’s neutral. Neutral emails are often perceived as negative,” says Jane Sunley of business strategy firm Purple Cubed. A happy face can help.

But be careful. Smiley faces are the only acceptable emoticon in business. No winky faces, no frowny faces. If in doubt, do not use them. And less is always more.

It’s the first thing the recipient sees, so give them a concise, relevant description of the email – it will help them organise their inboxes. There’s nothing businesspeople love more than “inbox zero” (zero unread emails). And avoid overuse of attention grabbers, like “URGENT”. You’ll quickly lose your credibility.

University of Bristol research warns against using first names unless on familiar terms, or if replying to an email. While this may be excessive, certainly don’t start emails with overly excitable openers, like “Hey John”.

In 2011, City worker Sebastian Marsh emailed a pal about a “hot” girl, and accidentally copied her in. The exchanges went viral, and Marsh was shown the door by his employer. Don’t use email for personal correspondence; particularly if job-searching.

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