Over the years, technology has completely changed the way we communicate. Today, we cannot imagine communicating without cell phones, emails, and instant messages – all enabled by the internet. We use these methods for personal and professional communication. Our personal communication is expected to be friendly, warm, and sometimes verbose. On the other hand, professional communication is expected to be short, formal, and to the point. However, due to the increasing use of social media and its steady inroads into our business and professional life, these lines are blurring. Despite this, professional or even personal communication needs to follow certain basic etiquette. This is especially true in the case of emails, which are used for both personal and professional communication.
It's easy to see why emails are the most common and preferred form of communication in today's environment. Email is fast, cheap, and enables instantaneous communication without the fear of interruption. It is estimated that there were 4.17 billion email users in 2017 and the number is expected to grow to 4.26 billion in 2022. Businesses, schools, and even governments use email to communicate with customers, students, stakeholders, and the general population.
However, given the impersonal nature of email as a medium, it’s easy for writers to miscommunicate or for readers to misunderstand. Here are 7 tips for perfecting your email etiquette:
1. give a coherent structure
E-mails are supposed to carry messages that are clear and comprehensible. The subject line, greeting, introduction, and the main content must all be formalized depending on the frequency of the e-mails. The receiver must be able to clearly see through the actionable asked for and the urgency of it. The structure and the tone of the email must flow in a structured manner. E.g. the issue must come before the suggested solution. It is pointless to write about the solution until you have addressed the issue.
2. avoid spelling, grammar mistakes, and typos
While a small percentage of errors can be attributed to human error, typos are easily avoidable. Whether in business or personal correspondence, spelling and grammatical mistakes can be misleading or give the reader the impression that you simply didn’t care enough to read the mail before hitting the send button.
3. be cautious when hitting the ‘reply’ or ‘reply all’ buttons
Spam mails are the bane of all email users. So, imagine how your reader is going to feel when they see an email addressed to several people. Be careful about who you reply to and who you include in that reply.
4. don’t use capitalization in your emails
Regardless of how miffed you are with your sub-ordinate or colleague, don’t use all-caps in your emails. In the online world, using all-caps is considered the equivalent of shouting. Even in personal communication, expressing your anger or displeasure with friends and family is best left to face-to-face meetings and not emails.
5. be sensitive to cultural differences
While English is the dominant language for international businesses, not all people are native English speakers. Even the language is spoken in many different ways and with several accents globally. In addition, every culture follows different business etiquette. As an example, while it might be okay to address a recipient in the US with a “Hey” after a few e-mails, it would not be okay to use it in hierarchical or power-based countries such as Japan, Korea, or even India.
6. reply to your emails - even if the email wasn't intended for you
It's difficult to reply to every email ever sent to you. In the business context, replying to emails, even if they are not intended for you, indicates professional behavior. If you are not the intended recipient, point this out to the sender. Needless to say, the importance of replying to colleagues, seniors and clients cannot be undermined. This includes when the email was accidentally sent to you, especially if the sender is expecting a reply.
7. mention the documents being shared as attachments
Do not leave things for guessing. It might not always be pre-discussed that what documents you are sharing in your e-mail. It is then, best to clearly name the documents being attached in the e-mail. If need be then also state the names and the intent for each attachment in the body copy of the e-mail.
Verbal and written communication is what makes human behavior unique when compared to other species. As businesses grow, their footprint globally and competition increases, great communication will continue to be a strong differentiating factor. Research shows 86% of professionals prefer to use email when communicating for business purposes. Given that email communication is such an important aspect of business communication and company culture, following some basic etiquette will also set you apart as a polished and organized professional.