With the proliferation of computers and the Internet, emails are fast replacing letters in the realm of work communications. The reasons are obvious- emails are faster, cheaper and you can afford to relax on the formality. You can send/ forward an email to multiple recipients, keep track of a discussion- all very effortlessly. However in the fast and furious pace that emails create, there are a few things that are easy to slip out of our mind as well.
Here are a few principles one need to adhere to while using emails for work communications.
Read your email fully and ensure that you have gone through all the important points before you reply the email. This way you pre-empt the need for further emails to clarify points you have missed out the first time. Reply emails swiftly- a day is the norm. Always try to ensure that you have gone through and replied all your emails before you call it a day.
Just like official letters, keep your emails concise and to the point. Avoid lengthy mails where the reader has to scroll. Wrap the text after 70-80 characters.
Mention your designation in your first email to someone, but don’t repeat it in further emails.
Do not leave the subject field empty. Ensure that you give a relevant subject, so that it is easy for the recipient to identify it. E.g. ‘Report on ERP Implementation-June’ is clearer than a mere ‘Report’.
Whenever you are starting an email for a new subject, write a salutation/ greeting. However if the email conversation (you exchange several emails on the same topic) continues, you don’t have to include a greeting each time- it is as if you are having a conversation.
Emails do not have to be as formal as letters. But this does not mean that you can let go of everything. Use capitalization and punctuation in the same way as you use in a document or letter. Remember, these are not a mere formality- these have the function of making your thoughts clear to others. Avoid all capitals in your emails- they are equivalent to shouting.
Whenever possible, format your emails in plain text rather than HTML. Some email clients do not read HTML.
Use mail merge or use the bcc: field appropriately.
Do not recall a message.
Do not use IMPORTANT or URGENT. These have become clichés.
Consider the person/persons who are receiving your email. It is the most important factor for deciding the tone, the address etc. For instance, a mail sent to a superior at work has to be more formal and brief than one sent to a colleague or a subordinate. Also, you will need to use the person’s surname or ‘Dear Sir/ Madam’ when you are writing to a higher authority. In the case of a colleague or subordinate, it might be sufficient to use the first name.
Avoid long sentences, language that reflects gender bias and slang in your work emails, even when you are writing to a colleague or subordinate. Remember that a work email has an element of formality. It could be read by many people. So avoid anything that could reflect badly on you.
It is alright to send emoticons to friends and people in your personal sphere. However it is safer to avoid them at the workplace.
When you regularly send an email to more than four people, you would do well to create a mailing group. This way the recipient does not have to scroll down through the names before they get to the subject matter. It can also help to keep some addresses anonymous- some recipients may prefer their email addresses and names kept that way.
(A mailing group is a list of email addresses collected under one common name. Most email service providers provide technical assistance for creating such groups)
Use the ‘Reply All’ and ‘cc:’ options sparingly.
Use of Attachments
Attachments are a regular feature of work emails. Follow these tips for the appropriate use of attachments.
Use an appropriate title for the attachment, so that the recipient knows what to expect. For instance if you are sending a monthly sales report for June, a title like ‘Sales Report June’ makes it easy to keep track of.
Mention in your email that you are sending the attachment and also add the software, year/ version and the title of the file. E.g. “I’m sending the information you requested in the attached MS Word (2000) file titled Student Assessment.”
It is not a good practice to send very huge files as attachment. The recipient’s internet connection and email service may not be able to manage it. If you have to send a large file, make sure to zip them.
Last but not the least, attachments are for judicious use. Avoid an attachment when you have already conveyed the same information through the body of an email. For example, some employers ask you to paste your resume to the body of the email and avoid sending it as attachment. Always follow such instructions when specified.
Ideally, an email should not be longer than a page of the computer screen. But sometimes you might need to send longer communication like a report through the body of an email. In such cases, make sure to divide the body of the email and give titles and subtitles to ensure reading ease. The body of the email in such a situation should have an executive summary, a last date of response from the recipients and a table of contents of what is to follow.
‘Flaming’ denotes using emails to vent emotions. With the fast pace of computers, it is very easy to type out everything you feel onto the screen and then click on the ‘send’ button. But think of the repercussions. The person at the other end is likely to respond with the same venom and the situation will in all probability turn worse.
When you have a sensitive matter to sort out, it is always better to do it face to face. When you don’t have this option, wait till your anger has cooled down and you can handle matters more objectively. Avoid sending an email when you are upset or angry.
What if You Get a Flaming Mail?
You are going to be angry, upset and embarrassed. It is difficult to handle. But avoid retorting in the same fashion. Keep your cool and send a simple and direct response addressing the matter of the other person’s concern. If that does not help, speak with the other person face to face or over the phone.
When Not to Send an Email
As is evident from the section about flaming, there are a few things that are not appropriate for email communications. These include disciplinary actions, complaints about a colleague/ senior/ subordinate, conflicts regarding performance appraisal, personal information or concerns about colleagues etc. Avoid communicating through emails in such sensitive situations and try to work out things through face to face discussions.
The Final Package
Emails have added a lot of convenience to our work lives, but you cannot afford to be sloppy in any of your work communications, and emails are no exception. Be thoughtful and courteous in your emails. To put it in a nutshell, your emails reflect professionalism, efficiency and protect you from undesirable situations.
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