Email is a tool that we almost take as much for granted as we do
the telephone. However, its wide use as a communication tool necessitates
us stopping and thinking about what is appropriate behaviour when
using this mode of communication. Listed below are some guidelines
for emailing that can help you avoid the embarrassing situation
of unwittingly committing communication faux pas as well as get
the most out of this valuable tool:
- Write your message clearly. As email does not convey emotions
as well as face-to-face or even telephone conversations, your
correspondent may have difficulty telling if you are serious or
kidding, happy or sad, frustrated or euphoric. Be cautious, particularly,
when using sarcasm and humour.
- The best way to avoid misunderstandings due to missed signals
is to give email correspondents the benefit of the doubt and seek
- You should also be aware of when you can be sloppy and when
you have to be meticulous. An email to your lecturer that is full
of spelling mistakes and gross punctuation errors is hardly going
to impress him.
- When you are upset or angry, learn how to use the “postpone”
command in your head. Review the message only after you have had
time to calm down.
- Do not send abusive, harassing or threatening messages, and
chain messages requesting recipients to forward the information
to other people. Use email in a professional manner, as you cannot
control where your message might be sent.
- Do not leave your email account open when you leave your computer.
Anyone could send out libellous, offensive or embarrassing messages
in your name.
- Do not send replies to all recipients unless there is a very
specific need for everyone to receive the message. It wastes disk
space, clutters up in-boxes and annoys people.
- When replying, keep messages brief and to the point. It is important
to remember that some people receive hundreds of email messages
- You may see email messages with many exclamation points at the
end of a sentence for added emphasis. However, if something is
important it should be reflected more in your text than in your
- In the quest to save keystrokes, users have traded clarity for
confusion (unless you understand the abbreviations). Some of the
more common abbreviations are listed below:
||be seeing you
|by the way
|for your information
|rolling on the floor laughing
|ta ta for now
||talk to you later
Use abbreviations that are already common to the English language,
such as “FYI” and “BTW”. Beyond that,
you run the risk of confusing your recipient.
- Since there are no visual or auditory cues in email, users have
come up with something called “smilies”. Here are
- A set of mental abilities, and
| smiley face
|wink (light sarcasm)
|frown (anger or displeasure)
They are typically found at the end of sentences and usually refer
back to the prior statement. You should use these sparingly as
there are many of them and their translations are by no means
- When replying, it is unnecessary to reproduce a message in its
entirety. Include enough of the original message to place your
response in context. This is particularly useful if the other
person may not read your response for a day or two.
- Do not assume that what you see on your screen is exactly what
your correspondent will get on his. The software and hardware
that you use may be completely different from what your correspondent
- A clear and relevant subject line will help readers mentally
shift into the proper context before reading your message. The
subject line should be brief and does not need to be a complete
- Remember that all laws governing copyright, defamation, discrimination
and other forms of written communication also apply to email.
- Even if you do not have time to make a full response to an email
message, at least acknowledge receipt of it, and give the sender
a time frame as to when you will be able to get back to him.