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5 e-mail etiquette rules every professional should know

e-mail communication tips

There's so much potential for things to go wrong when writing an email.

Because you’re not face-to-face with the person you are communicating with, the room for error and misunderstandings is enormous. Have they misread your tone? Did that quip you meant as a joke get taken seriously and offend someone? Are your emails too short, or do they drag on and on and on….

While email is a valuable and necessary tool for communicating in business, it’s also very easy to slip up on your email etiquette.

You want your emails to be understood crystal clear, especially when you’re writing to a stranger. Sometimes picking up the phone is easier, but when things need to be sent via email or you need to ensure there’s a paper trail, you might have no other option.

Essentially, your emails should deliver the results (or replies) that you want.

Here are some tips for perfecting your e-mail etiquette:

Subject lines
Ever skimmed through the newspaper and found yourself only reading the headlines? If you don’t have a compelling email subject line, chances are your intended recipient will do the same – delete, and onto the next email.

You need to interest someone into clicking on your email. Your subject line should convey the main point of your message just enough to get them to click and find out more. If your message is time-sensitive, include a date or an indication that it requires an immediate response, such as “Invitation to Ramadan Banquet: Reply by 9 July”.

Be direct
Always assume the recipient gets a TON of emails everyday, and yours is just another one adding to their overflowing inbox. Like lengthy resumes, wordy emails have a higher chance of going into the trash. Your reader wants to know what you need from him or her. Be clear, concise and get to the point soon after your greeting or introduction. Ensure the content of your e-mail is informative but direct.

Maintain your tone
Writing is tricky because when you talk to someone face-to-face, you use body language and facial expressions on top of vocal tone to convey your message. Similarly, you assess how someone feels using the same method. Emails, however, hide all of that, which makes it slightly more intimidating. You’re most probably unable to tell if your reader has misunderstood your message due to the lack of visual and auditory cues. Pick your words wisely! The use of punctuation and capitalisation can make a big difference to the tone of your email.

Proofread
Before you hit ‘send’, read through your email and pick out spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Nothing spells unprofessional more than poorly structured sentences. Make sure all the necessary information is included in your message without it being too lengthy. Read it aloud if you need to (it’s the best way to catch any awkward phrasing).

Don’t over-communicate online
Have you ever had messages going back and forth and ended up having your main message wedged somewhere in that thread? The large volume of emails people receive daily is a big enough reason for you to ask if writing that email is really necessary. If you predict the email will lead to a discussion, pick up the phone instead!

There’s also the option of using instant messaging (via Skype, Whatsapp, WeChat and Viber) to communicate your message and answer any queries directly. In the case of sending condolences or delivering bad news, do it in person to convey your empathy and compassion.

Writing emails may seem like a simple aspect of business, but getting your message across without being able to express yourself through vocal tone or facial expressions can make it difficult for your reader to understand your message.

Need more advice? Monster Malaysia has tips for you.