Post Academic

Conquering Your Inbox: Making Email Etiquette Work for You

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionNow that you’ve tamed your inbox, it’s time to evaluate the quality of your online correspondence. Whatever you do, do not panic. Emails are not supposed to be great literature. They don’t even need to be grammatical. They just need to be effective and, most important, polite.

With the rise of email and IM in the workplace, it’s even easier to be rude. You can be rude via email even if that’s not your intention. Without seeing someone’s face, you can’t tell what a person really means. A “thanks a lot” in an email might read like a sarcastic “up yours” without the proper context.

At some point, your online words are bound to be misunderstood. Here’s how to be clear without offending your colleagues:

Choose your email length wisely. An email that’s too short might come off as brusque, like you didn’t think enough of the recipient to write a complete sentence. But a long email might open you up to unwanted critique or tempt you to go off topic. Stick to the task at hand.

More after the jump! Image from Deutsche Fotothek, Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons license.

Include a greeting and a farewell. Unless you are using the direct message feature on Twitter, a simple “hi” and a “thanks” goes a long way over email. If you are IM-ing someone, send an IM to find out if it is a good time, or at least apologize for interrupting if it is a urgent work-related matter. Then you can give your colleague a moment or two to prepare before you dive in.

Use the CC box cautiously, and don’t use BCC at all. Sending an email and CC-ing someone else, especially a superior, without explaining why you CC’d that person is a breach of trust. It might be a harmless email, but you don’t want to get in the habit of surprise CC-ing. A “I CC’d [Boss] because I thought she’d be interested” will suffice. Your boss and the recipient of the email will appreciate your attempt to be transparent. As for blind CC, ask yourself how you’d like it if an email you thought you received privately were floated around the office. Blind CCs are fine for party invitations if you don’t want to overwhelm people with a long list, but not for work matters.

Watch out for the auto-fill address feature. Some email systems suggest your recipients as soon as you type in an email address, and it is all too easy to send a link to a YouTube video of a frog and a chimpanzee having sex to your CEO. (No, I’m not linking to it. But it exists.) Seriously, check and double-check those email addresses.

Think before you flame. If you want to flame, you better make sure you have the strength and fortitude to keep it up. It will only escalate. Or it might end up in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. You never know. Whatever you want to flame about, you should truly believe in it because a flame war is forever.

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