Avoid Abbreviation Frustration
PC users have their own shorthand language that uses expressions designed to save typing, such as "IMHO" (in my humble opinion) and "TTYL" (talk to you later). However, many people find these abbreviations as unintelligible as organic chemistry formulas. You can't assume everyone is familiar with the endless acronyms circulating out there. WIDLTO--when in doubt, leave them out.
PG-13 Is Keen
Many companies scan all employees' incoming e-mail for "R-rated" keywords and image file attachments. Not only can images be inappropriate, but they also hog space on the company's servers. Colorful messages, pictures, or jokes can violate e-mail policies and land recipients in trouble--or at the least, prompt an embarrassing discussion.
Reserve anything you wouldn't want the boss to see for personal e-mail accounts. When it comes to content, you may be surprised to find out that your "entertaining" messages can offend. So think twice before whisking off e-mails to everyone in your address book. You might think a certain topic is innocuous--but Auntie Marge might not.
Must you respond to every e-mail message received? How quickly must you respond? According to the Emily Post Institute, every message other than spam or junk mail deserves a reply. Our theory: Nobody has that much time to spare. However, notes from people like your boss, your customers, people you care about, and people with whom you haven't spoken in a while always merit a reply. When sending e-mail, tell the recipient explicitly if you need a reply within a certain time frame.
Six Degrees of Attachments
File attachments deserve special scrutiny on the sender's part. For starters, don't send them to people you don't know. Chances are, the whole message will just be deleted without being read, due to virus fears. On top of that, large file attachments can take forever to download. Your son-in-law will not be amused when he's at the airport trying to get his e-mail and has to wait ten minutes for the photos from your birthday party. Also, try to compress large attachments, especially photos.
Fight the Good Fight
E-mail can be one of the coldest, most inhuman forms of communication possible. So stop before you type. If you're really angry about something, give yourself a cooling-off period (ideally at least 24 hours) before you write an e-mail. Also, be careful with criticism via e-mail. The mother who puts her arm around you and smiles before telling you "The Thanksgiving turkey was a bit dry" probably won't start a family feud. But the mother who writes an e-mail that says "Too bad about that overcooked turkey" may cause heirloom china to be thrown to its untimely demise.
Warning: You are now entering the zero tolerance area. Almost all of us end up on mailing lists of family members, school chums, and the like. When you reply to these messages, make sure you reply only to the sender--not the whole list. Also, if you forward one of these messages to someone else, just copy and paste the information into a new e-mail. Don't forward the message with that huge list of names on it. You don't want to be branded as tacky.
Another no-no: Don't assume that new acquaintances want to be included on all your mailings--if you do that kind of thing. Ask for their permission first.
The Brief and the Beautiful
Some people think e-mail messages should be long and elaborate, but the best ones are short and clever. Trim the message down after you write it. Don't bury important information. If you're sending an e-mail to express a particular point, make that point right away, in the first paragraph. You can add any delicious bits of unrelated news at the bottom of the message.
If you're sending a one-line response, consider using the subject line to carry the whole message--if it fits. That way, the recipient doesn't have to open your e-mail. For example: "Got your package of samples today, nothing broken. Thank you (no msg)."
Prevent Capital Crimes
Capital letters in e-mail messages make the writer seem arrogant or angry. So unless you want people to confuse you with LEONA HELMSLEY, don't use them. And don't tell yourself that the recipient won't care that your "Caps Lock" key was stuck. Capital letters also prove visually tiring for the recipient, even when it's happy news. So unless you've had QUADRUPLETS or you've really WON THE LOTTERY, skip the capitals.
In days past, an e-mail could arrive wearing nothing more than a subject line reading "dinner." Today, a message must arrive wearing a focused ensemble, such as "Dinner with Laurie and Jake on January 18th downtown." Remember: People use subject lines to prioritize the order in which they read e-mails, to sort e-mails into holding folders--and to decide which e-mails to skip entirely. Make the subject line as specific as possible without being wordy. "Please comment on enclosed proposal today" beats "per our discussion." If the recipient won't recognize your e-mail address, try to be extra clear.
And don't label your e-mail "Urgent" too often, when it really isn't. You'll start to annoy recipients. Subject closed.