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Email Etiquette

Email Etiquette

By James H. Choi
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Dear Sabio Students,

You might raise your eyebrows at the suggestion of me teaching you how to write an email.  But many students lack etiquette.  They are not rude, just clueless, and etiquetteless.  As you apply to colleges, you will need it.

You’ll be selling yourself.  The schools will decide to buy the most professionally behaving students.  Show them how organized and polite you are in any emails you send them, and repeat this for the teachers you expect to recommend you to leave an imprint of “professionalism” in the reader’s mind.
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6378458/Column/Info/English/SpecialEvents.gifSo here is your etiquette breakdown for email:

  1. Use a subject line to highlight the email’s content.  Too many times I get emails stating the senders’ names in the subject.  I can see your name quite well in the “From” field.  I don’t need you to repeat it.  Besides, what you’re writing is not about you; it only concerns you.  What you have to realize is that those who receive a lot of emails have to sift through them all to find a single one.  When you write only your name redundantly in the subject line, you frustrate your reader, who neither cares nor learns anything about your name in the subject line.  If you are asking for a favor, such as “Please help me get admitted to a college,” make this clear in the subject line.  Because if you make the recipient unclear what all your emails are about, you’re less likely to get any favors done for you.
  2. Don’t send an email with your name in non-readable script, and expect to be treated favorably.  That is, if you come from a country where the script is not the Roman alphabet, which English (and French, Spanish, Portuguese, and so on) uses to write, then make sure your name shows up in this Roman alphabet as well.  Roman type is the script franca of the world.  Any computer in the world defaults to showing the script franca, so anyone you are writing will be able to at least make out some sounds to your name — no matter how weird it seems to them.  If you have two sets of friends with mutually exclusive scripts, then use both scripts:  one script  first then put the other scripts in parentheses, or vice versa.  Never send an email knowing the receiver cannot even read your name.  That’s rude.
  3. If you get an email with a “CC” (i.e. “carbon copy”), that’s because a third person needed to see this email.  For instance, a teacher might send a student an email saying he or she needs to turn in an essay right away and also CC the student’s parents so the parents know about the situation.  Whenever you reply to an email with someone in the CC field, give it a thought if it’s proper to reply to the whole group so that the CC-ed person is not left wondering if you replied or not.  You can reply to everyone by hitting “reply all,” which takes some effort to remember.  But you should.  If a counselor emails you to inform you that you’re late submitting an application, the faster all people — counselor, parents, principal, university officers — who have been CC-ed know you’ve replied, the more beneficial that will be to your application.
  4. But, at the same time, be aware of everyone copied on an email.  Because this could involve politics.  There may be cases when you don’t want to announce your reply to everyone on the list.  In that case, don’t use “Reply All.” But the main point is, you must pay attention to the people in CC field and make a conscious decision.
  5. Speaking of politics.  If you want other people except for the recipient to know that you sent an email, then put those other people’s email address on the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field.  The recipient won’t know and don’t have a way to Reply All to those hidden people.  This is what you would do when you want to prove to your parents that you emailed your school counselor.  You put the counselor’s email in the To field, and then your parents in the BCC field.  If you want your parents to also see the reply, then you put them in the CC field.  If your counselor knows how to use email, he/she will “Reply All.” If not, you will have to forward the reply to your parents.
  6. don’t use in4mal abbreviations when ur riting formally.  If you’re in a superior position, of course you can get away with anything.  The boss of a company, for instance, can make a typo in an email.  But if you’re not the boss or superior person in an email, then using these abbreviations invites the superior person to judge you.  You should use the most polite language you know, double-check your spelling, check your grammar, and certainly don’t abbreviate anything.
  7. Keep copies of all correspondence.  When you reply to an email, all past correspondence is automatically shown at the bottom.  This can get long, and looks really ugly and messy.   But leave it there.  This provides a record of the flow of the conversation.  If someone forgets what transpired between you and her, she’ll be able to look at the whole conversation right there instead of having to search through dozens of emails — all of which list your name as the subject.
  8. Edit your subject line as you reply back and forth. Here’s an example of one set of email replies:
  1. Student’s original subject line: “Feb. 29 Homework: Lesson 5, Questions 49 – 79, Odds Only.”
  2. Teacher’s edited subject line: “Feb. 29 Homework, Redo #71-79.”
  3. Student’s new subject line: “Feb. 29 Homework, #71-79 Revised”
  4. Teacher’s final subject line: “Feb. 29 Homework Total Grade”

At the time you’re writing the emails, doing so might seem tedious, but the value of editing your subject lines will become evident if you have to go back through your emails two years later — your organization skill will shine through.  Always imagine what you’d be looking for if you had to find this email two years from now; make that the subject.

As you run larger organizations interacting with more people, this kind of information management skill will determine the amount of information you can handle, thus how high you can rise.  Those who are working with you will see your effectiveness as well, and they will trust you with more information in turn.  In the information economy, the one who manages information better wins.


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