BMH Durban lecturer, Julia Sutherland, provides excellent advice and pointers on writing professional e-mails and e-mail etiquette.
E-mail is an important communication tool within both the personal and professional context (that includes your college career) :
- It is immediate.
- Messages can be saved for later review.
- Messages can be forwarded on, in their original form, to other recipients.
- It is a means of sharing documentation easily and collaborating on projects without having to meet face-to-face.
- It is flexible in that you can send both formal and informal messages.
There are many disadvantages to e-mail communication too though:
- It is easy to misunderstand someone without the usual non-verbal cues we get from face-to-face communication.
- E-mails are often less formal than other forms of communication, thus an e-mail sender is more likely to write something that they would not ordinarily say in a face-to-face conversation and which may cause offense.
- It’s also easy to click the “send” button too early or to send a message to the wrong recipient.
Drafting an E-mail
Whatever the topic, e-mails require careful consideration when being drafted which is why you need to ensure that you follow the Five C’s:
- Be clear
- Be courteous
- Be correct
- Be concise
- Be complete
Unlike a formal business letter, you do not need to format an e-mail with an address etc. There are however certain structural rules you need to keep in mind:
- Add the e-mail address last.
- Always include a subject line but keep it short and informative
- Open with a simple but appropriate greeting
- Keep the body of the e-mail short and use paragraphs to divide up the information – the same as you would do in an essay: one paragraph for one topic.
- Your tone should be friendly, positive and professional. Remember: e-mails can be forwarded and work inboxes are not private.
- Invite a brief response, if necessary.
- Include an attachment, if necessary, but never send an attachment on its own without any subject line or communication explaining its context.
- End with a complimentary close.
- PAUSE BEFORE SENDING – proof read (spelling, grammar, punctuation, details such as times, dates etc.) and make sure you have included everything that is necessary.
- Only use industry jargon if the other person is familiar with the jargon.
- Do not, under any circumstances, use SMS or text speak (e.g. “u” instead of “you”)
- Get to the point quickly, don’t be too conversational.
- Do not use ALL CAPS – this means you are shouting.
- Always address someone specific – don’t just launch into the body of the e-mail without a proper greeting / introduction.
- Do not demand, always ask (e.g. “Please may I have a copy…” vs. “I want a copy…”)
- “Please” and “Thank You” are magical words.
- Avoid using exclamation marks!!!!!!
- Use a professional e-mail address (e.g. email@example.com vs. firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Be cautious with humour.
- Think before hitting: “reply to all” and / or “cc” – use these sparingly.
- Do not use causal salutations (e.g. Dear Jane vs. Hey Jane)
- Respond to incoming e-mails as soon as possible.
- Do not forget to proof read.
Using the correct e-mail etiquette will result in:
- The reader receiving all the information they need, enabling them to respond or proceed accordingly.
- The reader not being irritated and / or offended by your e-mail as this may affect their actions / response.
- The reader taking you seriously.
Shober, D. (2013). Essential Business Communication – Communicating with a vision (2nd ed.). Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.
Smith, J. & Giang, V. (2014, September 3). 11 Email Etiquette Rules Every Professional Should Know. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/email-etiquette-rules-everyone-should-know-2014-9