Tips for Communicating Effectively Through Email
Email is a formal and legal form of correspondence and the purpose of the email should be to communicate effectively and not to be misunderstood or create conflicts. Below are some tips and suggestions on communicating effectively through email.
- Addressing recipients: When sending a formal email, address the recipient properly by name or title as appropriate. For example, you may want to begin an email sent to a faculty as “Dear Dr. Jones:” or “Professor Smith:” If the email is sent to a group of people address them as “Dear Colleagues” or as appropriate, or at least start with a greeting such as “Good morning” or “Greetings” so that the recipients do not assume the email to be abrupt.
- Signature lines: Always include your full name at the end of all your email messages. This especially important if you use NIU email as the recipients cannot recognize who the sender is from student IDs (Z-ID) or staff IDs. Your may include other information such as your phone number, fax number, etc., along with your name. Exercise caution in including fancy quotes as part of your signature lines. Some quotes can also be misunderstood and may be misconstrued to be related to the subject of the email.
- Subject Line: Clarify what the email is about in the subject line of the email so that it helps the recipient to read the message quickly. Subject lines such as “Hello” or “Question” may not help to clarify what the email is about.
- Body: In the body of the message, get to the issue in the first line, if possible. If you would like the recipient to respond to something by a deadline, then say “This is to request your response on……….by month/date/year…” If you make the recipient scroll through the entire message to find out what he/she has to do, then you may lose his/her attention.
- Tone: Please exercise caution with the tone of your email messages. The tone is often left to the reader to assume and you may not want the tone of your messages to be misunderstood. The recipient can only see the text and not the sender’s intentions or facial expressions. Avoid questions as much as possible in your email. Something simple as “Why didn’t you try that” or “What do you mean by….” can be taken as either a friendly suggestion or as questioning someone authoritatively. Instead, use something like, “I would recommend you to try this…” or “Could you please explain….” which may clarify the tone and the message. Words such as “please”, “would you”, “thank you”, etc., may help to clarify the tone.
- Use of Capital Letters: Messages typed in capital letters can be considered as shouting or yelling at the recipient in email. Do not write your messages in all lower case also.
- Writing Style: Write your email messages in plain English and do not use text messaging format with abbreviations such as “UR” for “You are” or “L8” for “late” or “cuz” for “because”. Such informal writing style will reflect poorly on the sender and may be habit forming.
- Organization: If you have to send a long email, break the message into paragraphs or a numbered list so that it is easier for the reader to process the information. Do not send one long email without breaks as such email messages are difficult to read and comprehend.
- Clarity: Be clear and concise in what you want to say in an email so that you can cut down on more email correspondences clarifying what the earlier email messages meant. If you include dates, time, etc., make sure they are accurate and you may not want to say “Let’s meet tomorrow..” or “Let’s meet on Monday 3 pm” since they are both relative to when an email is opened. Instead, you may want to say, “Let’s meet on Monday, August 6, 2003 at 3 pm at …” so that the recipient has the correct and complete information.
- Responding to Email: It is recommended that any email message that requires a response be replied within 2 working days, if it is not an emergency situation. If the response is complicated or will require more time, it is a good idea to let the sender know that the email has been received and that it would be responded within certain number of days, or request the sender to remind you, if a response has not been received by that time. Similarly, if you email someone do not expect to receive a reply immediately or during weekends. Wait at least a few days before contacting the recipient again. Exercise caution when responding to a listserv posting or an email addressed to multiple recipients including you, and make sure if everyone should receive your response.
- Copying messages: Exercise caution when copying your messages to the recipients’ supervisors, colleagues or others. Recipients may also be offended by messages copied unnecessarily to others. When blind copying an email to someone, make sure the person receiving the blind copy does not reply to everyone addressed in that email. You may send a separate email to ensure that the blind copy email recipient is aware that the earlier email was a blind copy. Email messages are also be subject to copyright, intellectual property, and legal guidelines.
- Confidentiality: Please do not assume that just because you send an email confidentially, the recipient will also maintain its confidentiality. In some cases, recipients’ secretaries or other staff may open and respond to email messages. Your email may also be forwarded to others without your knowledge or permission, and so be aware of such possibilities.
- Responding to Upsetting Email: If you receive an email from someone that upsets you, do not respond to it immediately. Setting aside an upsetting email for a day or two (if it is not an emergency) and reading it again may give you a different perspective and take the emotions out of the message. You can also make sure you are not misreading the tone of the email. When you reply later on to an upsetting email, you may also ask for further clarifications instead of misunderstanding the email and responding to it. If you receive an inappropriate email from someone, do not automatically assume it is from that person. Email identities can be stolen and used without the owner’s permission.
- Multiple Email Systems: Do not assume everyone uses the email system you use. Some may have an email account in the same system you use, but may not know or may not check that account often. If you do not receive a response in a timely manner, you may want to call and check to make sure if the recipient received the email.
- HTML-Formatted Email: Exercise caution in sending HTML-formatted email. If the recipient receives only text-formatted email, any images included in the message may not show and the HTML characters included in the message may also make it difficult to read the message.
- Spelling and Grammar: Please proof-read and spell-check your email messages before sending them. Your email messages reflect you! If you receive misspelled or ungrammatical email messages from someone who is not your close friend or subordinate, exercise caution in pointing out his or her mistakes. Some people may email you in a hurry, and by pointing out their mistakes, you may end up offending them unintentionally.
- Sending Attachments: Please check with the recipient before sending email attachments from software that the recipient may or may not have. Not everyone may be familiar with or have the software to open ACCESS, MS-Project, PDF, or zipped files. Exercise caution in sending large attachments or PDF files since some email systems have limits on file attachments.
- Greeting Cards: Exercise caution in sending virtual greetings cards or cartoons provided by greeting card vendors. Otherwise, you may be unintentionally signing up the recipient to be on the vendor’s email list!
- Archiving Email: Archive important email messages or copy them to yourself so that you have a backup of what you sent or what you received for later reference.
- Spams and Flames: Do not respond to spams, flames, or unwanted solicitations. It may be better to send them to your email system administrator or block them than responding to them. In some cases, by responding you may get on the spammers or flamers’ email list.
- Accessibility: When sending email, exercise consideration for people with disabilities. Some recipients may not be able to process colored text, fancy fonts, embedded images, audio, or video attachments.
- Using non-NIU email systems: Always use NIU’s email for communicating with faculty, staff, and campus units at NIU as email messages sent from non-NIU email systems could be construed as spam at times and be prevented from reaching recipients at NIU. Also, if a non-NIU email account is full an email sent to it from an NIU email may not bounce back and so the NIU sender will not know if the email reached the non-NIU email recipient or not. If you must use a non-NIU email system for a particular reason, do not set up email accounts with names like “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com” as such email names are not appropriate for professional communication.
Adapted from the Following Sources
The Netiquette Homepage.
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