Top Ten Rules for Effective Netiquette

by Laura Merrill, Manager of Cooperative Education

Emailing friends and strangers can be a fast and loose way to keep in touch, but when you use email on the job—or to find a job– you need to follow the rules of the road. Email etiquette, otherwise known as “netiquette,” adds professionalism and impact to your messaging, without sacrificing speed and efficiency. Here are 10 guidelines to remember when keystroking for your employer.

#10
For best results, stick to plain text that wraps after every 70-75 characters. Some email servers interpret HTML as gibberish, and sometimes HTML can even cause the email client to crash.

#9
DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS! It comes across as shouting. Instead, use the same capitalization rules you would for any other writing. Use uppercase ONLY when you want to emphasize something in your sentence, like I just did. In a similar vein, don’t use all lowercase letters either. That may suggest you’re mumbling. Likewise, stick to a single punctuation point at the end of each sentence, not, for example, a series of exclamation points. Your words should convey what’s important in a sentence, not the punctuation.

#8
If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read it, don’t write it in an email. There’s no such thing as privacy in the email world. And emails are forever. Some companies regularly monitor email to ensure you’re using it strictly for business and that you’re not leaking important company information to outside sources. Be wise: keep it professional. (Word of caution: Never write to a prospective employer using your work address.)

#7
Be concise, but provide enough information for the reader to understand your query. The best rule of thumb is to keep your message to the length of one screen so the reader doesn’t have to scroll. If you must use a lengthy message, you might want to apologize at the beginning, and also provide a brief description of what you’re going to cover in the message.

#6
When responding to an email from someone else, click the Reply button. By doing so, you begin an email “thread” that helps you and the recipient link the messages together and gives each of you context when responding. To further aid the reader in your reply email, quote back to her the relevant text, using a greater-than sign (>) to separate the quote from your reply. One-word replies and replies that don’t include the text of the original message can be confusing and will waste the reader’s time. On the other hand, if you want to continue an email conversation but the subject has changed, start a new message with a descriptive subject line.

#5
Sometimes you will receive an email called a “flame,” where the writer has essentially attacked you via email. Take care and cool off before responding. Ask yourself a few simple questions before replying so you can avoid an all-out “flame war.” What would my reaction be if I received this email? Would I be comfortable saying the same thing in person?

#4
Many people remember the basics of grammar, punctuation, and courtesy when writing a business letter, but they totally forget these things when sending email. Don’t be that person!Make sure you use proper grammar and punctuation and that you run Spell-Check before sending an email. Also, unless you’re certain you can address someone by their first name, always use Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.

#3
What do you do with all of those smiley faces (otherwise known as “emoticons”) and abbreviations? While emoticons are acceptable in text messages and via instant messaging, it’s best to avoid them in email except in cases where you know the recipient well. As for abbreviations, don’t use them unless you know for certain that the recipient knows what they mean. FYI, BTW, and FAQ are safe bets, but BCNU (be seeing you) and IMHO (in my humble opinion) may not be.

#2
Are you sexyone1987@yahoo.com? Well, don’t be when you’re giving a potential employer your email address. Sign up for an alternative free account that sounds more professional. Stick to your name only, if possible.

#1
When sending attachments, especially those in excess of 1MB, always ask the recipient’s permission. If the attachment is too large for the recipient’s mailbox, it could cause other emails to be sent back undeliverable. Once you have permission, be sure to name that attachment something descriptive like JohnDoe’sResume.doc and to tell the recipient the software program and version you used to create the document.

These are 10 broad rules to follow, but there are others detailing more specific needs and applications. Check out these sites for more information about professional netiquette:

Here are some great books on email etiquette:

David Angell and Brent Heslop, The Elements of Email Style: Communicate Effectively via Electronic Mail

Edward Bailey, The Plain English Approach to Business Writing

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6 comments so far

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