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modern ms manners: a note on email etiquette

When I am not writing witty little ditties for Lip, my 9-5pm is spent in an office environment where a large part of that time is allocated to communicating via email. As an older member of Gen Y, I remember when emails just came out and the excitement I experienced as I created my first Hotmail address at 13 years old. Prior to that time, we had to call our friends on the phone like some sort of cave people. Or if we wanted to talk during class, we would pass notes which look like emails but were generally written by hand and then folded on bits of paper which were then stuffed into the lid of our white-out so the teacher did not know that we were actually passing notes. Life was simpler then.

Now you would be hard pressed to find someone who does not email (which is why most people who work for Australia Post seem to be so sad when I collect the mail of a morning). Even my grandmother emails, as she finds it a great way of keeping in contact with all of us grandchildren (although she can also send text messages so she is pretty savvy all round).

As someone who spends the greater part of their day communicating via email, I find myself qualified to set down some rules of etiquette. These rules apply mostly to a work context however can also be transferred into your personal emailing.

Overuse of High Importance/Urgent Classification:

I work with some outside groups who are very enthusiastic about marking up all of their email communications as ‘urgent’. When I first receive an urgent email, I am inclined to stop whatever it is that I am doing and immediately read it to find out what the emergency is and how it can be rectified. However, upon realising that it is a simple follow up email with a query that can be resolved by reference to the emails previously sent, I must admit I find myself feeling somewhat let down by the use of the ‘urgent’ subject heading.

I am not denying that there are times when emails are ‘urgent’ and require a quick turn around, it is just that now there runs a risk of the situation being analogous to ‘the boy who cried wolf’, as no one will believe you when something is actually urgent. To assist in discerning whether an email warrants the use of an ‘urgent’ mark up, I have created the following flow chart:

A Note on Tone:

Written communication is always more difficult than verbal communication in getting your message across. Without the use of inflections, tone or body language, you have nothing else but the written word to rely on when writing your email. This is only going to be more difficult when you actively misspell or create words that are not even words to include in your email. Whilst we may all rofl at how cre8ive u think u r b-ing by shortening words dat ur mum wud hav a <3 attack if she eva red them, in an email you look like you are having some sort of typographical seizure. This can be confusing to the reader of said email, as they may be wondering why you did not mark up this email as ‘urgent’ as it is clearly a cry for medical attention.

It is important therefore to think carefully about the words and terms of phrasing you use when sending your email. I find a good proof read will help avoid any situations of confusion. Avoid the temptation to throw in too many emoticons. Whilst it may be clear to you what a colon and parenthesis smiley face might mean, it may just look like a punctuation stammer to your reader.

Also on tone, it is useful to remember that it is NEVER appropriate to use caps lock as a way to emphasise a point (except for discussions surrounding etiquette and grammar). This is the equivalent of ’email shouting’ and you must ask yourself whether you would actually shout the contents of what you are typing at the receiver of said email. If so, then might I suggest picking up the phone and unleashing a good old verbal shout? Much more effective.

Get an adult email address:

I am sorry, but if your email address is ‘[email protected]’ then no one is going to hire you. If they do, be prepared for some interesting questions on your orientation day. There is no excuse for only having one email address which calls into question your sexual scruples, when it is free and uncomplicated to obtain a normal firstname.lastname@gmail/ address. Keep the [email protected] for all your spam. Which brings me to the final point:

Do not send annoying forwards:

Yes this was exciting when we were all 14 and newly discovering the benefits of ‘reply all’ as a function of connecting with all of our peers. And yes, it was even better when these involved seemingly insightful quizzes which would force your crush into admitting that they had ‘someone on their mind’. However, it has now been ten years since my first receipt of one of these forwards, and I am sorry to report that no fairy wishes/weird events/strange other world happenings have occurred that could be attributable to the on-forwarding of one of those emails.

That said, forward this article to one thousand of your closest friends within the next thirty seconds and something AMAZING will happen to you at 6.50pm tonight! As long as you make sure they know it is ‘urgent’.

(Image credit)

2 thoughts on “modern ms manners: a note on email etiquette

  1. You should add something about closing an email. I’ve recently seen more “Thanks,” and “Best,” than the traditional “Sincerely,” and “Yours truly,” closings.

    Anyway thanks for the info!

    -J (fellow Gen Y’er)

  2. Hi Jimmy,

    Thanks for your feedback. You are right, signing off on an email is also important. In professional contexts I think a “sincerely” or “yours truly” still remains appropriate, however it is unclear what a standard reply could be for informal emails. I know some people adopt a casual approach of “cheers” but to me, unless we are actually sitting down for a drink, all that sign off does is make me realise how much I want to be drinking at that point in time!

    Yours, (appropriate sign off?)


    PS – Love your cartoons

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