Read this ditty extracted from the March 2000 issue of Training & Development http://www.astd.org
Here are the 10 most common mistakes people make in business email correspondence,
according to Customer Service for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide, 1999).
1. unclear subject line
2. poor greeting (or none at all)
3. unfamiliar abbreviations
4. unnecessary copies (CCs)
5. sloppy grammar, spelling, and punctuation
6. all-caps in the message
7. no closing or sign-off
8. rambling, unformatted message
9. unfriendly tone
10. no clear request for action.
The book's authors, Karen Leland and Keith Bailey, write that without voice tone, hand gestures, and facial expressions, the real meaning of your email may not be interpreted the way you intend.
Suggests Leland: "Have a short training session with your staff, and go over these principles.
What a difference you'll see when email becomes an even more effective tool in your office."
Here are my comments on Karen LeLand and Keith Bailey's list of 10 common mistakes.
The Corporate Community is up in arms about the misuse of e-mail. Not only are they concerned about the usual issue of loss man/woman hours, to personal mail written and read during company hours, but also with the reams of junk mail pouring in.
Therefore don't even think about using e-mail until you get the basics down pat. You will have lots of opportunities to break the rules later, but first learn the rules. Be armed for your defense when the boss brings your mail to the floor. Your e-mail is being read by more people than you think, so be wise before you go internet.
Unclear Subject Line
Some people new to e-mail do not see any need for filling in the subject line above their e-mail. After all, they reason, regular letters (snail mail) do not have a subject heading, besides it all sounds so business like.
Subject headings are very important in email, and basically not to use them is darn annoying. Nowadays many people, particularly professionals, receive long cues of e-mail of which a large percentage is immediately deleted as junk or non-priority mail.
Your subject heading is the first appropriate point of greeting. Learn to write clearly, and to the point. What exactly is this letter about? Is it just a hello? Then say so, in the subject line.
See Beginner's Guide to Effective Email
by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood
Poor Greeting (or none at all)
This is a tough one for me. Being a New Yorker I never quite know how to begin a letter. First the issue of Ms, Mrs., Sir, etc. all seems so unresolved. Also I feel uncomfortable with the word 'Dear' as most of my acquaintances are not Dears.
My only suggestion is to watch what other people do and copy the style that best suits you. But do not neglect the issue, or it may undermine an otherwise excellent letter.
You look like a snob when you use too many in-house abbreviations. People do not like snobs, particularly when they feel vulnerable in a new area like using computers to communicate. There are many nerd and other specialty clubs where you can show off your computer-techi-speak so save it for there.
Unnecessary Copies (CCs)
In the beginning, people do not realize when they automatically reply to an email that all the people in the original CC box will also be receiving a copy. This has created many embarrassing situations, not to mention lost friendships. Always double check all names in both the address box and CC box of your e-mail.
Recently both Microsoft and The US Whitehouse have been snagged by e-mail sent supposedly to insiders they could trust. People receive and save in their hard drives everything you post and this often is being used in litigation these days. Your Internet Service Provider, company administrator, the cleaning person, the police and/or your significant other all have access to your e-mail if they want. Write only what you feel others can read, and always double check whose address is actually in the header.
When unsure about the security of your mail, encrypt it, don't send it, or take your chances with a bit of common sense. Assume that you are being read by others and act accordingly.
Sloppy Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation
E-mail is fast and easy so we all have a tendency to become footloose and fancy free with our usage. There are a lot of closet school moms out there who are noticing your mistakes and tallying your score. If you are hoping to impress people for work or collaborative projects in the future, use your spell checker and watch you language.
If your e-mail software doesn't have a spell check, take the added effort to cut and paste into software that does, or get a universal spell checker that works in all applications.
All-caps in the Message
DEFINITELY RUDE AND THE MARK OF A JERK OR COMPUTER NOVICE. DON'T DO IT, UNLESS YOUR CRUIS'N FOR A BRUS'N.
No Closing or Sign-off
Most e-mail software allows you to create a signature file that is automatically placed at the end of each e-mail. Things to consider: do I want everyone to receive this salutation? Some closing is important as you letter may be followed by a string of data used to track e-mail. A friendly professional ending is always helpful, and essential for more formal postings.
There are many computer-speak endings, letter combinations that have meaning to regular computer users, but I do not recommend these. With the exception of computer professionals or teenagers, many people just do not know these relatively new abbreviations, like IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) or YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).
You should study these new expressions along with the ubiquitous smile symbols, as they are fairly common, and in some circles a must to know.
Email Signatures - Netscape Mail
Rambling, Unformatted Message
I am usually guilty of this one. Frankly I do not even know if I know how to be nice. But unless you want to spend your life wondering why no one comes to your birthday party, figure out what being friendly in words is all about.
Remind yourself that people will not have the advantage of your winning smile to know when you are kidding. Also different folks have different ideas of what is friendly. Smileys help a great deal for informal mail. Professional mail is better kept a bit dry, to the point, with creative energy used to express your warmer side in a 'word only' world.
No Clear Request for Action
This may seem to be unrelated to personal e-mail, but in fact it relates to almost all correspondence. Again the problem is lack of body language. Spell out exactly what you want, do not assume anything.