Over the last six or seven years, it has become bog standard in corporate America to use email for a very great deal of normal correspondence. Where once a paper trail of letters existed, now it's a tachyon trail that tells us how an issue has morphed over time.
I believe that emailed correspondence should follow the same rules of formality, courtesy, and professionalism that were followed by old-fashioned letters. But I have seen an increase of shoddy correspondence from a number of fronts, and it is not clear to me that the senders have any idea how their email messages reflect on them.
So here are some of my rules when I send business (not personal) email:
So. Those are my rules. You probably have more. Please tell me what they are. I plan to make up a handout for my classes and give copies to every single student I encounter. :-)
A meaningful subject line will ensure that someone will actually read your message. Leaving the subject line blank gets email sent to the spam filter. "Hey there" is not a subject line -- it is an annoyance. Subject line should be as brief as a headline in a newspaper, because it serves the same purpose: to allow the reader to index a variety of messages. Unless the email is going to someone I know well or is going to a large list of people, I always use a salutation. "Dear Dr. Arachnid," "Good morning Scott," or, for email to multiple people, "Hi Everyone," work just fine. If the email is going to multiple people I know well and where informality may be appropriate, "Kowabunga Y'all" is just fine. I would never use that in a business correspondence, however. Capitalize. Punctuate. Write in complete sentences. Don't get out of the habit of doing this, because you may revert at a time where such a lack of grammatical correctness will mean someone judges you as sloppy or rather stupid. Trim messages. Getting an entire message back so that someone may write, "Okay" at the bottom israther annoying, unless there is a clear business need for that. Interleave comments. Generally, bottom-post a reply for short messages. (However, if someone has started top-posting in replies, I follow their convention unless I need to reply to specifics.) If you are going to cut an entire message in your reply, then be very careful how you do reply so that someone knows which points are germane. Use a closing. "Sincerely" is fine. "Respectfully" is sort of obsequious. "Regards" is universal. "Best regards" indicates that the writer has personal regard for the recipient. "Truly" is rather quaint. "Thank you" works out well. Even "See you soon" may have its place. Sign [electronically speaking] the email. If someone doesn't know you, sign your whole name as you wish them to know it. No, I don't care that your .sig has all of your contact information in it. I sign my messages "Dr. Deb Geisler" when they are going to prospective students, "Deb Geisler" when they are going to people I don't know well or am interactng with the first time, and "Deb" for those people I know. Use a .sig if you can. This can provide people with your full contact information, and it is useful to have that. (I always use my work account for all email; it has my full contact information in the .sig. And yet, one person ignored all of that information and looked up my home telephone number, calling me there. Hello? If someone has a number in their .sig, use that one unless you know it is appropriate to use another!) If someone sends you information you have requested, send them a "thank you" message as a reply. That way, they know you got what was sent. Acknowledge email that is time-sensitive, even if you can't get an answer right away. "We're working on it" always makes the sender feel better about things. Don't attach a file unless you tell someone what is in the file; in fact, it's better not to do so unless you are warning them that it is on the way.