Mind Your E-Mail Manners

Most of us are guilty of it: We use lowercase letters and sparse punctuation throughout our e-mails with little regard for the beginnings and ends of sentences or even paragraphs. However, using good manners, proper English and sensitivity to bring a professional tone to their electronic correspondence is yet another way CPAs can make a positive impression in the business world. Here are some tips to make sure the e-mails you send work for—not against—you.
Don’t write in all capital letters. It is the equivalent of electronic shouting. On the other hand, don’t use all lowercase: It makes the writer seem indifferent and the message not as important.

Use simple text messages. Your e-mail program may be able to handle all the fancy graphics from Web pages, but many cannot. Large graphics also distract from the main purpose of the e-mail.

Use correct grammar and spelling. Almost all e-mail programs have a spell-check feature. Pay attention to punctuation as well. Failure to proofread your message may brand you as a “poor communicator”—which is tantamount to a death sentence in the business world.

Answer business e-mails within 24 hours. You will show that you’re professional and courteous by replying to messages in your inbox within one day. You’re not required to answer as soon as you receive a new message—despite how speedy it is to communicate this way.

Don’t expect international contacts to respond as quickly as you would like. Local customs and/or technology issues may prevent them from writing you back within 24 hours. Be understanding about this. If something is urgent, make that clear and give an alternative way for them to reach you—for example, by providing a telephone number.

Be aware of nuances in speech when addressing members of the global business community. Slang, abbreviations and seasonal references rarely are universal. For example, our spring may be someone else’s autumn. Spell out dates to avoid confusion. To Americans, 2/10/03 is February 10, but to Germans, it’s October 2. Also, avoid emoticons—the smiley and frown faces commonly used in e-mails and instant messages; they could be taken the wrong way.

Take your finger off that send button. When you’re tired or angry, don’t send an e-mail. Write it, save it as a draft and read it the next day. Maybe it is exactly what you want to say. On the other hand, maybe you come on a little too strong—certain words can get you into hot water. Also, ask yourself whether the person you’re e-mailing really needs to know a particular tidbit. Cutting down on the volume of corporate communications is a wonderful goal!

Never substitute electronic mail for a face-to-face meeting. It never is appropriate to reprimand, reward or fire someone via e-mail. Professionalism applies here.

Squash the urge to forward chain e-mails. The headers and footers always are at least 10 times longer than the message itself, and people get tons of them every day. If the joke really is too funny not to pass along, copy and paste it into a new e-mail and then send that one to your friends and/or coworkers.

Watch your language. You don’t have to answer every e-mail you get. If you get a chain or prank e-mail, most of the time you can ignore it. If you do reply or send a new message, don’t forget most companies have a way of permanently recording everything you send. As a rule, do not write anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want your boss or your grandmother to read.

Resist attaching pictures, letters and large documents to your e-mails. They sometimes can “choke” the recipient’s system, causing technological problems for the rest of the day. Don’t send a large attachment unless people ask you to and they expect to get one.

When you reply to an e-mail, include the original in the body of your message. Computer users look at dozens of e-mails a day, and they may need a point of reference for your response. You don’t have to include the entire message, just enough to jog their memory.

Turn on your auto-reply function if you plan on being out of the office for an extended period of time. Your contacts will appreciate knowing when you expect to return, and this is a good way to get the word out.

Source: Paul F. Siddle, principal, the Executive Protocol Group, Naples, Florida and Richmond, Virginia, www.executive-protocol.com , 2003.

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