Anatomy of an e-mail

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E-MAIL: tame the beast Credit: Shutterstock

YOU NEED to etiquette-it in today’s communications world,

By force of habit, a young colleague recently ended an e-mail to the tax authorities with a row of kisses. Ouch.

Digital communication is still a brave and scary new world, especially for those of us with a reduced shelf-life.

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It’s not just the text-speak terms like LOL which are confusing. (For years a friend assumed it meant Lots of Love and used it thus. He only discovered his mistake in a hurt response to a note of condolence).

Join me on a voyage of discovery through 13 of the more important e-mail etiquette tips.

  1. Plenty of us absolutely hate e-mails without a subject line. Even worse: WRITING THE SUBJECT LINE IN CAPS. Easy there, pardner.
  2. Use a proper salutation. Except to friends, hey, yo or hiya doesn’t cut it. When in doubt the time-tested ‘Dear …..’ works just fine.
  3. Don’t blitz your entire address book with funnies or a cat video. If you can’t desist, at least use the BCC (blind carbon copy) button so you’re not releasing your entire address book into the wild to delight the world’s spammers.
  4. Don’t assume the recipient knows who you are just from your e-mail address, especially if it’s ‘[email protected]’. Attach a proper signature to every e-mail.
  5. Check previously-quoted text for potential landmines before re-sending it, unless the entire ‘thread’ has only been between you and your single correspondent.
  6. Mixing up Reply and Reply All has cost many a hapless employee their job. Ditto not ensuring you’ve clicked the right addressee.
  7. Don’t put emojis in business correspondence. Sad-face emoji really doesn’t do when apologising for missing the tax-form deadline.
  8. Nowadays if you don’t reply to a message in 24 hours it’s a snub.
  9. Go easy on the exclamation marks!!! Not for nothing are they called ‘screamers’ in newspaper parlance.
  10. Never shoot from the lip; don’t e-mail when you’re angry. Or drunk, which should be a criminal offence.
  11. Keep things brief and to the point. Wordy letters are a relic of a bygone age, more often’s the pity, but there it is.
  12. Don’t send giant attachments, or fleets of them, without asking first.
  13. Finally, last thing before hitting Send, run a (spell)check.

Be particularly aware of the pitfalls of predictive text, which might easily have turned your dear to dead, being pregnant to pringles, your kissing to killing (I’ve had them all). Never mind the embarrassment caused when predictive changed the two vowels in a message about a lady’s car called a Volvo.

To BCC or not BCC

RULE 3 says don’t blitz your entire address book with a bulk e-mail, covered in detail in an earlier column.

If you really must, at least ‘BCC’ the recipients rather than revealing to all and sundry just how many (or few) actual people you know.

That’s also vital these days when lists of real, active addresses are digital manna from heaven for anyone of the spamming persuasion.

The most common solution is to address the e-mail to yourself in the normal way. Then go through your address book adding recipients individually, by clicking the BCC button for each.

Incidentally, did you know that under Europe’s new GDPR rules, bulk e-mailing is now technically illegal unless you ask each person’s individual consent? So good luck with that.

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