Although technology is ever-changing, basic rules of etiquette still apply. Polite electronic communication requires that you treat others as you would have them treat you, even when interacting through the cold gray light of the computer screen. Follow our tips to help you communicate electronically, politely, and effectively.
Three Key Considerations:
- Human contact still matters - Don't communicate electronically at the expense of personal interaction. There's a reason people often need to discuss things face-to-face, and there are times when no substitute will do - whether you're breaking up with your boyfriend or asking your boss for a raise.
- Watch what you say, and how you say it - While the computer brings people together, its impersonal nature can lead to remarks that people wouldn't think of saying in person. Do whatever it takes to stay courteous, even in that means taping a note to your computer reminding you to be decent and polite.
- Be careful when clicking Send - Whatever you say in cyberspace cannot be taken back. You have no control over where your message goes once you've hit Send; it can be saved and forwarded by any recipient who chooses to do so, and words have come back to hurt people, destroy friendships, and ruin careers.
E-Mail Do's and Don'ts
- Addressing with care - When sending an e-mail to a long list of recipients, don't put all the addresses in the To and cc lines. Most people don't want their e-mail addresses displayed for all to see. It's better to send messages individually or use the blind-copy (BCC) feature, which allows you to show only one address.
- What's your subject? - Fill in the subject line, even in personal e-mail. The subject line should succinctly identify what you are writing about.
- No yelling, please - Avoid typing your message in capital letters because CAPS ARE THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING. Also beware of anger and frustration in the choice of words; the recipient will hear the anger and frustration in your writing.
- Watch those symbols - E-mail is singularly lacking in subtlety, and language that the sender may find funny or clever can easily be misunderstood by the recipient. If used, emotional symbols are better suited for casual messages between friends than for business e-mails. Likewise, be careful when using on-line abbreviations, since they'll leave some recipients scratching their heads.
- Salutations and Closings - Especially in business e-mails, it's important to have strong finish. To one, two, or three people, state each person's name in a salutation : Dear, Tom, Mary, and Jim. When addressing a larger group, you can use a common salutation. In the case of an e-mail reply, use a salutation in the first reply. After the first reply, it is no longer necessary to keep adding a salutation. Think of it as being in a conversation. You don't need to keep saying the person's name every time you reply. Similarly for closings, it's useful to information about yourself in case anyone might want to to know other ways to reach you. If your e-mail program does not automatically sign your message off with your name, address, e-mail address, and phone number, add it yourself. For a chain of reply e-mails, it is not necessary to include this information with every response.
- Check it over - Be sure messages are clearly organized and grammatically correct. Write in complete sentences and always check spelling and punctuation - especially in business e-mails.