Email etiquette 101

26 February 2018 | Careers Advice | Guest Author

You've been asked to write an email to your team manager. On the surface, this seems like a straightforward task. However, if not handled correctly a few fundamental errors made can spell disaster for you and your career. I have worked with a many young people who claim to have “excellent written communication”. However, judging by the emails they compose and manage, that is clearly not the case. Good email etiquette is an essential skill in the workplace but can take time to develop.

Whenever I'm dealing with my inbox and have to send important information, I always have these four questions in mind.

Am I adapting my communication?

Every group has a different way of communicating and interacting with one another, even if this difference is subtle. This applies to any new organisation you happen to join throughout your career. Understanding this will allow you to know how formal your emails should be. Its best to avoid using any form of slang and emojis to get your message across. At this point, start and end your emails formally (for example using “Dear …” to begin and ending with “Kind regards”). Depending on how the person responds, you can then slowly adapt your responses accordingly. If it's a cold email to somebody you have never met be sure to use the correct title of the recipient. 

Is my message clear and for the right person?

The human attention span is about 9 seconds. Therefore, sending an email that is unclear will most likely be deleted or ignored. When composing the email, make sure that the subject title is as clear and detailed as possible. For example, if you're sending a presentation to a supervisor, having the name of the title as well of the date of the presentation will clear any confusion very quickly. When sending an email, it's common for the recipient to have to act one way or another. Be concise, lay out the options clearly and don’t piggy-back one issue on top of another. If you have additional issues to address put them in a second email. This increases the success of any follow-ups that are required.

Finally, a spell and grammar check are essential. There are many add-ons available to prevent embarrassing mistakes. Taking the time to make sure that your grammar and spelling are intelligible shows professionalism.

Would I want the world to see? 

With the increase in the use of technology, companies have invested in software that allows them to monitor and track emails sent on their server. Consequently, there have been a number of occasions recently where employers have been sanctions or fired due to a poorly worded email. When you're in meetings and having discussions with colleagues, sending a follow-up via email is a great way to keep accountability and refresh your memory on any actions you have to take. Always remember though that if you wouldn't want the world to see what you're writing, using your work email to send that message is not the wisest option.

Did I forget something?

A recent survey was conducted, asking the biggest blunder people in the workplace do. Unsurprisingly, quite high on the list was forgetting to attach a document to an email. Nobody is perfect and there are occasions where you mention there's an attachment, only to send another email with the attachment. A method I adapted to avoid this is to attach the right document first, write the subject line, compose the message, add the recipient email and then send. While this seems tedious, missing important deadlines or failing to circulate important documents due to this error makes you look unprofessional. 

As a final note, remember that it is easy for people to misunderstand each other when using email. If you are unsure of the context or tone of an email you receive, simply ask. Never assume.

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