Email Guidelines

Written by Vicky Cosstick from ChangeAware

In several years of mentoring and coaching individuals in organisations, difficulties over emails have been a repeated theme.  For this reason, I am writing up a list of suggested email guidelines.

1)      Use email if at all possible to convey information only.  If your message is complex, contains any emotional content, or is in any way negative, you should telephone, meet or write a letter instead.

2)      Regularly ask yourself if you could phone or visit instead of sending the email.

3)      Emails are generally understood to be somewhere between a letter and a conversation.  You can choose how formal to make your email.  For example, if you are sending an email to someone senior to yourself and/or someone you have never met, always address them as “Dear so and so”.  If Mr/Ms seems too formal, put the whole name in:  Dear Michael Bloggs.  Only use shorthand or text-speak with someone you know very well indeed.

4)      Be very careful with humour and particularly irony.  It doesn’t travel well by email.  Best to make it clear you are joking with an emoticon J .

5)      Use the subject line well – you can signal the importance of the email or add an RSVP for a deadline.  Your email can also say in the subject line or first line of the email:  “For information only, no reply required.”

6)      ALWAYS top and tail your emails:  the first reason for doing this is that it’s just good manners and it takes milliseconds to do. Secondly, if your email gets forwarded or added to a string of emails, third parties need to know who an email is from and to.  Try to add “thank you” or “hope you’re well” or “best wishes” or whatever – emails can sound abrupt otherwise.

7)      Emails can be very easily misinterpreted.  Reread your email before you send it to check that it is courteous and cannot be misunderstood.  Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and ask how they will read it and whether it sounds as you intend it to sound.  If you receive an email which seems aggressive or abrupt DO NOT reply in the same vein.  Wait, reread it.  Reply by phone or personal visit.  If neither is possible, send an email letting the sender know the impression you were given and check whether this was their intention.  Almost invariably they will be surprised – they just sent the email too quickly.

8)      Try to make your emails as brief as possible.  People often read emails (too) quickly and may not read the end of emails.  Don’t put your life story into them ….  If in doubt, pick up the phone.