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Email Etiquette and Rules

Articles in this series:

Email How-tos

How to set up your Email software and configure it

Email Etiquette and Rules

Email Security

Emails with Emotional Zap!

Email is a marvelous electronic invention that allows us to dash off notes, letters, pictures, - even movies, in the flash of a few moments. It is similar to postal mail in some ways, but really a whole new dimension in our lives today. So many people take it for granted now, but it works much better if we take time to set some rules and remember good email etiquette or good manners, in this new way to communicate with everyone near and far.

I don't want to take things for granted; you might be one of those who is totally new to the Internet and the ways of the world-wide-web, so email is a totally new word to you. (Though, if you have come this far, I suspect you have heard the word and are eager to learn more).

Email is a great convenience which allows us to communicate with each other much faster than by regular post, and with better timing than a telephone call. What I mean is that a written email message can arrive at its destination on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds or minutes. Remember how postal mail can often take a week or two - or three? Email's advantage over a phone call, if time is not crucial, is that the other person can read and think it over, and answer at a time when it is most convenient for them.

(On the other hand, just in the last few years email has become unreliable in that we never know whether the recipients at the other end are filtering out, or their ISP has blacklisted every email that comes from our ISP, and so on. No one can guarantee that email will get through any more, and that's because of the serious miss-use of this wonder).

Lots of people check their emails constantly, or at least first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon and again in the evening and once more at bedtime. I did that at first too, because I loved the novelty of receiving an email. It made me feel important. Then I discovered that I wasn't getting much business work done because I kept interrupting myself to check whether I had another email. One article I read advised to set aside certain hours just once or twice a day, to deal with emails, and then set the rest of the day aside to get meaningful work done. I decided that I needed to work on my web businesses without distraction in the mornings, so unless I'm specifically expecting someone's email, I leave that program alone and do my work. Email answering is always on my afternoon agenda, but I use it as a tool of communication when it suits ME.

If I have a client's work to get done, or need to be somewhere else, I leave my email inbox alone. Those people can wait until I'm ready.

Email can be great fun, and a great blessing, but don't let it run your life.

It is important to set some policies for how you will deal with your own incoming and outgoing emails and your etiquette, for even if you don't see them face to face, emails are an inter-personal relationship. How you handle email DOES affect people. If you are the parent in a home, or a teacher or an employer, any situation where you have others under your authority, you need to see to it that they all understand the basic rules of email etiquette and maintain good manners in their email use too.

If not, if the authorities find out, there are agencies and governments that have the power to shut you down. Your ISP can be persuaded to pull the plug on you very quickly. Some will do it even if they just think you are guilty of spamming.

Email Rules

1. Be clear in what you write. The reader at the other end can't see your twinkling, teasing eyes when you write sarcastic remarks, or things with a double-meaning. You could hurt someone's feelings, or ruin otherwise perfectly good relationships. If you are in a specially angry or playful mood, say so plainly in your email text. Don't mislead people.

2.In fact, if you are really angry, or feeling confused and riled up. It is best not to dash off an email blurting out your thoughts. You might write one if you must, but instead of hitting "Send" click on "Draft" instead, (or drag it to the draft folder, and let it rest there a day or two. Then go back to write it over or edit it. Just because emails can come in so quickly doesn't mean that you have to answer everyone immediately. This is the beauty of email. You can hold off your reply until you have had time to think it over, pray about it, or do more research. It is better to write a wise and practical answer a few days later, than to blow off steam and ruin a relationship for the rest of your life. If you must say something negative, it is better to deal with it by phone or face-to-face. Set up a meeting to discuss those things.

(I've just had to deal with this kind of crisis myself this week. See Emails with Emotional Zap!).

3. Write your emails with the best kind of English spelling and grammar you can. Don't let lack of perfection bind you, but someone may decide to forward your email to someone else, or print it out. Someone could also decide to sue you over something you wrote in an email.. Do you want it used as evidence in a court case? Only write what you would be willing to say in person.

Then besides, refraining from writing things that you might have to explain in court, also make your writing as clear and understandable as possible. Use the spell-checker, and avoid those mysterious cliche abbreviations, unless you must when corresponding with a teenager who knows no other language. To write in ALL CAPS is to emphasize, but to do that for more than just one or two occasional words is considered shouting, and shouting is rude. Someone is bound to tell you off for that!

4. Limit Distribution and how-to use Blind carbon copy
Please don't send an email to everyone in your email program's address book, just because you can - or because you like the sense of power that gives you. Some will cringe whenever they see one of your emails. They may even filter you out!

Especially avoid the Forwards! If you are totally new to emails, I hope you will not pickup that bad practice of forwarding some cute or clever email to everyone whose address you have in your email program's database. Not even all those virus warnings emails that seem to be so necessary to pass on. (In fact some of them may be clever disguises for a true virus!) If you do this forwarding you are only contributing to the passing around of bad viruses that can take down your computer and those of your friends too. It's as rude as coughing into their faces when you are sick and passing on your sickness.

I confess it; this is one of my pet peeves. Occasionally a forward will have something new that I haven't seen before, but mostly it is recycled stuff that has been coming to me in a forward, or two, or three, . . . for the last 10 years. Usually they come from people who don't send any personal note with it. They just dump this recycled stuff in my inbox and make more work for me, deleting them. Then I have less time to spend on business emails and ones that accomplish something valuable. I don't want to be rude to these people, but I would just as soon they did not forward all that stuff to me.

You will soon lose respect for some friends who do this to you as well.

Presently, with my linux computer system, I am not so afraid of viruses, but no end of my friends with windows computers are complaining of having to take their computers in for cleansing of viruses. That could be greatly reduced if people did not do mass mailings from their email program.

Sometimes you do have a legitimate reason to do a mass mailing, or to mail to several friends, such as a committee at the same time with the same content to your email. But let me explain some better ways to do this.

Just as you discover soon enough that you as soon as you have entered one email address in the To: blank, another one appears, you should also discover that when you click on the wee triangular arrow beside the To:, you will find two more options. You can change that to be a Cc. or a Bcc. Cc. stands for carbon copy, and Bcc stands for Blind carbon copy. The difference is that with the first, each email will show the addresses of the other recipients. When you use Bcc, the other recipients won't see who else got this message. That alone prevents one of your friends from stealing the other friend's email address if they wish. (And many wish to do so!)

In fact, I've heard there are scammers who deliberately send around a new cute or inspirational email hoping that it will be forwarded around the world. A plea for signatures works for them too. They know that eventually it will come back to them, and look at all those email addresses that come piggy-backing on it! A treasure trove for them. No wonder that sometimes after a new friend or contact sends me a forward, I suddenly get loads of spam at that address! Just watch and see if it doesn't happen to your email address soon too!

When I send minutes to committee members, I do want them to see who else is getting this message. But sometimes, I am replying to someone about a request that came into our mission and I want the director to know what I've said to that person in case he is confronted about it by that party. It keeps him in the loop, so he knows what is going on. That's when Bcc is very important. Or if I am replying to someone and I want to make sure I have a copy of this email on my other computer, but I don't want to give that email away to anyone else, then Bcc is a great feature to use.

Human Nature
These features can be easily miss-used too. I've learned that email does not make saints out of anyone. It is a great convenience, but people use it according to their most base nature for the most part. If they would cheat or lie, given an opportunity, they are not likely to be more moral and upright with emails. That is why most of the time I feel rather tired and resigned about these email etiquette issues. Good, moral people who would not say a negative word in public have no qualms about cutting corners with emails - as if they think no one will find out. At times like this I do harp on this subject hoping I can persuade one person with higher standards to resolve to be consistent and positive and thoughtfully wise in their use of email.

Mailing List Software
6. If you have a good reason to be mailing to a number of email addresses at once on a regular basis, I would recommend that you get some free software which you can install on your website, and use that for mass mailings. There are excellent features for keeping everyone's email address much safer, and they also insert an automatic link at the bottom so that if someone wants to get OFF your list, they can do so with a click or two. I like the DADA Mail script, but there are others out there too.

Good email etiquette is important because many of our lives and our work careers now revolve totally around email. Most of us have our email program open all day long! Email is part of our environment. Yet if we forget good morals and email etiquette we can ruin some lives. I have a story to tell you from just this week to show how close I came to such disaster. Click over to this page: Email with Emotional Zap!

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Ruth Marlene Friesen

Ruth Marlene Friesen
The Responsible One

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