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Deb Geisler
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December 2016
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Deb Geisler [userpic]
Some useful email suggestions

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:

  • 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.
  • 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. :-)


    I teach online Composition Classes to 20-40 students per 10 week term. Almost none of them use salutations or signatures, and most of them don't bother to punctuate or capitalize properly. It is not uncommon for me to get email this this:

    'prof did you get my assignment i know i was late, but can i get points anyway cuz i tried relly hard."

    I'm not kidding.

    Most of the time they also don't include key information that I specifically have told them they must have, specifically, course and section number.

    Every term it is an uphill battle. Sometimes I wage it and sometimes I don't, depending on my level of exhaustion. It rarely seems to make a difference.

    Use paragraph breaks. Long run-on pps are really hard to read, especially on screen, and don't seperate out the points you may need addressed.

    Pay attention to the cc's, and cc them back when applicable. Leaving some people out may cause severe confusion.

    Make sure you know who you're e-mailing if you're playing multi-partner ping-pong. My 'orker doesn't care to be addressed by my name, and v.v

    Tone is more likely to be interpreted negatively in text, don't be the jerk.

    Sometimes calling/walking over is way more efficient.

    Never write anything in e-mail you don't want FOIA'd

    If the topic drifts in a long exchange, change the subject line at some point.

    Even where an audit trail of quoting all previous messages is expected as a business matter, at least trim sigs.

    Never send just a file attachment by itself, even with warning. Spam filters will generally eat those if there's no accompanying text.

    Don't overuse emoticons or rely on them to convey intent. A smiley doesn't excuse a rude sentence, unless it's to someone you're sure will take it the right way. (With some of my correspondents, "You bastard!" can be a compliment; all rules can be bent when personal circumstances really allow it.)

    While not a content or style 'rule', I am a firm believer in avoiding "CLEM" email (Career Limiting E-Mail).

    Email makes it very easy to respond in anger to someone else's email. Which never, ever helps a situation.

    When I am angry, I draft a response and then save it. I review it a couple of hours later, then save it again.

    It takes two or three revisions before I send it out.

    Also, just because email is fast, it doesn't mean your response has to be fast. I have know people in an office environment who will drop everything to deal with email. All their email.