Thursday, February 4, 2010

Communications Tip: E-mail Etiquette

Since e-mail is likely the most common means of communication with your professors, prospective employers, and other colleagues, knowing how to effectively use the medium will increase your chances of successful communication.

Basic rules of e-mail:
1. Be professional: Include a salutation and closing signature.

2. Keep it simple: We’re all busy and don’t have time to read your 3 paragraph request for a meeting. Make it easy for your reader to answer your questions or address your concerns by keeping e-mails brief and you purpose for writing clear.

3. Respond in a timely manner: Especially when working under deadline and in groups, it’s important to provide information/respond to team member’s questions as promptly as possible.

4. Be polite: If you’ve sent a question or concern to someone, do send acknowledgment of their e-mail.

5. Feel free to use bullet points or bold (for deadlines or meeting times) to make finding the important bits easy for your reader.

6. Consider timing: True, e-mail is asynchronous, but unless your professor has told you in advance that weekend e-mailing is acceptable, expect a response during work hours, Monday – Friday.

7. A follow-up to point #6: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on others' parts. Do _not_ expect an immediate response to your e-mails; in fact, give respondents at least a 24 hour window.

8. Follow-up: People are busy. If you’ve sent an e-mail to a prospective employer or team member and have not received a response, it is perfectly acceptable to send a follow-up message. [Use discretion: if you sent an e-mail at midnight and it is now 8a.m., refer to point #7.]

9. Guidelines for bad news e-mails:
-- ALWAYS REMAIN PROFESSIONAL (Incidentally, avoid using all caps in e-mail. It looks like you're yelling.)
-- Stick to the issues, avoid emotional phrasing/claims
-- Resist personal attacks
-- WAIT: Always write calm. It’s better to take longer to respond than to send something immediately that could potentially burn bridges.

10. Generating positive outcomes from bad news e-mails:
-- Consider the human element: Know your audience and consider their
needs/motivations when crafting your response.
-- Where appropriate and when it can be accomplished tastefully, use humor to lighten the situation.
-- Always try to end on a positive note.

--Monica Bulger

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