You may have seen our earlier post about “5 tips for sending emails that get a (good!) response.” Not surprisingly, it generated some questions about everyday email use. After all, email communication has been around for decades but doesn’t always have a set of common rules. Your employer probably has guidelines about how to answer the phone. Emails? Not so much.
So, it’s up to us to develop a set of guidelines we’ll commit to when it comes to email. Here are the starting seven:
1. Respond in a timely fashion. Most people expect a response of some type within 24 hours of sending an email. Unless they receive an out of office reply. Or it’s unsolicited/spam. If you don’t have the answer, that’s fine. Just let the other person know you’re working on it and will get back with them soon. If you want people to answer your emails, being a good email recipient is essential.
2. Change the subject line. Another essential task is changing the subject line when the subject of an email changes. The subject line in an email is an indicator to the recipient of the importance of the topic. “Birthday Cake in the Breakroom” and “Agenda for Tomorrow’s Meeting with the CEO” will have a different priority. It’s possible one of these could be deleted without even being opened.
3. Use the cc line, but not the bcc. The notation “cc” means carbon copy. When a name is in the “cc” line, the individual isn’t expected to respond. The sender is just keeping them in the loop. The notation “bcc” means blind carbon copy. It’s the same as carbon copy but no one in the email knows this person has received the information. It’s simply too easy to miss being bcc’d on an email and accidently respond. Best approach is just to send anyone you’d like to bcc a copy of the original email with a note to keep it confidential.
4. Use REPLY ALL sparingly. If at all. There are times when using the REPLY ALL feature totally makes sense. And in those cases, you should absolutely use it. Most of the time, hitting REPLY ALL is unnecessary. Like when someone gets a promotion. You can wish them well privately. If you don’t like people junking up your email inbox with a bunch of unnecessary REPLY ALL messages, then don’t do it yourself. Enough said.
5. Format for easy reading with numbers and bullets. People tend to gravitate toward lists, whether they’re in bullet or numbered format. It makes the information look organized. If you start reading the list and get interrupted, it’s easy to find your spot in the document (versus a paragraph format). When communicating multiple points, consider using bullets or numbers to organize the information.
6. Use spell check and grammar check. Before sending the email, do a grammar and spell check. While even the best of us will make a typo, it’s good to have one last review of the document before you hit send. The good news is most email programs have an automatic check and it only needs to be activated in your email software.
Bonus tip: Pick up the phone when necessary. This article is about email and the written word. But it’s important to understand when to pick up the phone instead of sending an email. If the topic is difficult/sensitive/negative, pick up the phone. If the recipient would respond better in a voice-to-voice conversation, pick up the phone.
Email is a great tool for communication when it’s used correctly. Adopt a few simple guidelines for your everyday communication and improve your effectiveness. Your actions could also rub off on others, making overall group communication better.