The use of E-mail offers many benefits in conversations. The biggest benefit I like is the record of a conversation which leads to improved process fulfillment and control. The misuse of e-mail is counterproductive to this benefit. Below is a list of e-mail principles to follow based on my experiences using e-mail.

  • Be Concise – Do not try to write your messages with words that do not clearly convey your message. Do not use approximate or passive language. Write in regard to your audience, they have no idea what your thoughts are unless you clearly and concisely present them. A recipient should not be required to reread an e-mail 5 times trying to figure out the message. The recipient should not have to do a follow up with you for clarification of the message. If the message is too complicated and complex, then use e-mail to schedule a phone call/conference call to discuss your message.
  • Keep it Short – Do not write novels. Big paragraphs can lose the reader easily. Avoid paragraphs if at all possible. Don’t repeat yourself needlessly and don’t write in circles.
  • E-mail Subject – Make the subject line the main thought of the e-mail. What is the main purpose? What is the main thought? If your e-mail requires action on the recipient’s part of the conversation indicate it in the subject.
  • Stay on Subject – An e-mail string should be about the subject of the e-mail. If you need to start a new subject, then start a new e-mail subject string. As the writer of an e-mail, always remember to write in regard to the subject at hand. As the reader of an e-mail, read in regard to the subject.
  • Replies – When multiple people are part of a discussion write your reply and then right underneath it quotes the statement or question you are replying too.
  • Reply Promptly – There is nothing more destructive to a conversation than making the recipients of your thoughts wait. In today’s business world a decision may need to be made quickly and often times the decision maker will make a decision whether you have replied or not. The sad part of this is, your contribution may have a high level of value to it and now it was not part of the decision. More importantly, it destroys teamwork. Know the importance of a timely reply and always remember in order to provide a timely reply you must read it in a timely manner. If you cannot reply promptly with your message, then reply and acknowledge this fact. In business communications time equals money.
  • Reply All – Before you ever click on the reply all button, stop and answer this question, “does everyone on this e-mail string really need to see my reply?” If you click reply all and there are people on the e-mail string that does not need to see your reply all you are doing is irritating and frustrating them.
  • Don’t Respond for the Sake of Responding – If you have nothing to contribute to the discussion then don’t contribute anything.
  • Attachments – Do not send big attachments without the recipient’s permission. Use compression tools to reduce file sizes.
  • Capital Letters – If you write with all capital letters you are shouting at the recipient.
  • Don’t Address – Do not put the recipient’s e-mail address in the ‘to field” until you are satisfied that the e-mail is written exactly as you intend. By doing this you will not accidentally send it to the recipient prematurely.
  • Do not use Sarcasm and Irony – Again there is no body language or voice inflections in e-mails, so these two things can be misunderstood easily and create major problems for yourself.
  • Be Courteous – Always start with a salutation and end with a thank you.
  • Use Emoticons Sparingly – If your words can be interrupted in a way that does not represent your emotions try to rewrite your words. A major part of communications is body language and voice inflections. These are not present in e-mails. Do not get carried away with emoticons. It is best practice to rewrite your statement in a way that conveys your emotions than it is to use emoticons. However, if you cannot accomplish that, I believe it is best to add an emoticon than to have the reader miss interrupt your emotions.
  • Forwarding E-mails – Clean them up before you forward it. Make sure the content is exactly what the recipient needs and nothing more. Explain why you forwarded it to the recipient.
  • Errors – Spelling checkers are great however they are not the end all. Reread your e-mail multiple times. Take a big breath and reread it again as the recipient is going to read it. Print it and have someone else read it. The main problem is you know in your head the message and because of this, you can easily miss problems with your message