A few months back, The Hindu featured an article on city street signs and how wrong sign boards are a big deterrent to motorists (http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/city-street-signs-need-help/article4386818.ece). I’m sure most of us would have noticed the sign board in which a helmet is placed within a red circle advising drivers to wear helmets while driving. According to the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) codes, anything that is within a red circle is prohibitory or is a negative sign, conveying exactly the opposite meaning of the intended message such as this case. While I was motivated to read more of such examples given in the article, I realized that such discrepancies arise when certain standards are not followed right, and how vital it is for us to convey the right meaning in the right way.
I’m sure this thought implies all the more when it comes to our everyday communication with our peers, project teams and Clients. Out of this, I’m sure you will agree that E-mail is the most dominant form of business communication and all of us have been communicating primarily via e-mails in our workplace. One of the research reports (Pew Internet research) indicate that about 78% of employees who use e-mails send about 10 mails on an average day and 11% send more than twenty mails a day making e-mails an integral part of our lives.
‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’- Will Rogers.
This quote has always amazed me in a lot of ways, for the meaning it carries, much more when it comes to writing a professional mail. Most of us will be making our first impressions with our customers through a mail, and we can make the impression disastrous if we don’t put our best foot forward in maintaining proper etiquette. It is therefore very essential to ‘write it right’ to not only captivate your customers but also make a credible impression as a professional with whom it will be a pleasure to work with.
In this blog, I’m going to list some key business e-mail etiquettes that one needs to consider and be aware of in their day-today e-mail communications to ensure best results. Most of us could be following these standards in our e-mail communications and this blog can serve as a refresher for you. Along with some common standard etiquette, I have also listed out the key etiquettes that I have learnt and followed in a variety of projects which have never failed to return guaranteed rewards and recognition from the customers.
Prepare before you write
In our day to day e-mail communications, we can be faced with an elusive and herculean task of writing various kinds of mails to our customers and project teams. Hence it is very important to determine the goal or the purpose of the mail and what you hope to gain from it. Certain questions such as these can help you plan a good mail:
- What is the main point of the mail?
- What does the reader need to know? How much does the reader know about the subject?
- Should I provide background information?
- What do I want the reader to do?
Be Concise and to the point
Keep in mind that your mail is not the only mail in your reader’s inbox. Most times, your reader is less likely to read everything in a long mail, and can tend to miss important information. Hence, keeping your message short and concise, using only a few brief paragraphs is very essential. As a good practice, I try and place the most important points to be discussed in the first paragraph, and then support them in the coming paragraphs as some readers can just skim through the first paragraph and then decide to read on. I have also realized that using bullet and numbered points to organize action items can help present the content exemplary well. Hence, it is important to capture your reader’s attention in the beginning itself. You could also restrict each of your sentences to a minimum of 20 words max making sure that all your key facts are addressed and highlighted (if needed).
Account for the Tone
When writing an e-mail, it is very important to account for the tone. The reader cannot see your face or hear your voice; hence it is vital to choose your words carefully and thoughtfully. Using all capital letters to emphasize a point is a big no-no as it would mean screaming or shouting at your reader and unethical. In my personal experience, I have noticed that most times we tend to hastily reply to a mail as soon as we have something to contribute even before we finish reading the entire mail and could even regret sending the mail at a later point in time. As a good practice, never reply to an e-mail in a hurry especially when you’re upset with the recipient. Be polite and positive.
Having said this, it is also important to personalize your e-mail on the other hand. Adding a personal greeting such as ‘Dear Rick’ or ‘Hi Rick’ and pleasantries such as ‘Have a nice weekend’ can create a good connection between you and the reader. However, it is equally essential for you to draw a careful line between being professionally friendly and being over familiar.
Provide a meaningful Subject Line
The subject line is the window to your e-mail. As I said earlier, remember that your mail is not the only one in your recipient’s inbox. Hence the subject line is a crucial part of an e-mail message. It could be the first thing that your reader is likely to look for to know what the mail is about. Ensure to always add a short, meaningful and relevant subject line and never to leave the subject field blank or fill it with inappropriate fillers such as ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’. As a good practice, optimum usage of meaningful mail threads with the same subject line will not only facilitate efficient communication within the team but will also save your recipient’s time looking for related e-mails in their inbox. This could simply mean clicking “Reply” instead of “New E-mail”.
Always double check your mail before sending it
As a best practice, you should always read your mail and proof read it thoroughly before sending it. A poorly written mail with typos and wrong punctuations may not convey the right meaning across and would also portray a poor caliber of you. Hence, it is vital to always check your mails thoroughly. As a best practice, I never fail to use the spell check feature available in Microsoft to check for typos in my mail, just to be sure. But remember, a spell check alone won’t do. Most times, in the documents that I have edited, a very common error that I correct is the usage of the word “Lick” instead of “Click”. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that a sentence such as ‘Lick OK’ instead of ‘Click OK’ can not only be hilarious but be a total put off! Perhaps, the author might have even diligently run a spell check before sending it for review. Hence, it is essential to not rush and slow down a bit to check the mail properly before sending an e-mail. Another habit that I usually adapt is not entering the recipients addresses in the ‘To’ field before I’m completely done with my draft. This has really helped me reduce the risk of sending incomplete and incompetent mails to my stakeholders. Remember to also use the “Reply to All” feature judiciously especially when communication is vital between all teams in an e-mail thread.
For a good read on e-mail typos and the ways in which you could avoid them, I would recommend you to read one of my friend’s blog on Email Typos - The Textual Catastrophes in the ERS blog portal.
Respond to E-mails Promptly
I’ve learnt from my experience that one of the best ways to appear efficient and well organized is by responding to e-mails promptly. It is an essential etiquette to reply back in a timely manner whenever you receive an e-mail especially when it is something important and requires a call of action. You will not only be appreciated for your quick response but will also come across as a dependable person which will help you build longer and stronger relationships with your stakeholders. To conclude, I believe that all of us are on a continuous learning curve and I’m sure that we can blend our good practices honed from own personal experiences with quality standards to create a win-win situation at our work place.