E-Mail Etiquette

Content

  • Relevance?When preparing an e-mail, remember that “less is more.” Everyone is bombarded with multiple communicatons every day. If you want your e-mails to be read, make sure they are relevant.
  • Bad News?Don’t use an e-mail to communicate bad news to others. That type of communication needs to be done in person.
  • “Flaming E-mails”?Don’t participate in “flaming” e-mail exchanges. This back and forth “tit for tat” leads only to hard feelings and diminished communication. If you are the recipient of a flaming e-mail, simply delete it and move on.
  • Clear Desired Action?If you are requesting action as a result of your e-mail, be sure the reader knows exactly what action to take. Clarity of request will make the desired response more.
  • Easy Response?If you are requesting a response to your e-mail, make sure it is easy to respond to.
  • Legal Document?Remember, your e-mail is a legal document. E-mails can be requested in an open records request; therefore, it is critical to be clear, factual, and professional in every e-mail.
  • Subject Line?Include a relevant subject line. This will alert your reader about the topic, capture attention of the reader, and allow your reader to sort through received e-mails to find your e-mail more easily.

Format

  • Salutation and Signature?Use a salutation and signature in your e-mail. Don’t just launch into your topic or end abruptly. Gauge the formality of your salutation by what you would use in paper correspondence.
  • Short and Sweet?Avoid large blocks of text in your e-mails. Don’t enter into a long, detailed explanation; rather keep the e-mail short and sweet. Keep the message to one screen-length to help to gauge length. Shortened sentences and paragraphs will also keep the length manageable. In your responses, always favor clarity over complicated and short over complex!
  • Longer E-mails?If the topic of your e-mail requires that it be longer than usual in length, use headings to divide the e-mail into sections. This will help the reader to easily find relevant information and keep data organized. If you want to avoid length, attach a file or document that includes supportive data or content details. Don’t be afraid to use links to your Web site for more detailed information.
  • Important Information First?Whether the e-mail is short or long, keep the important information first. Like a journalistic style, the “who, what, where, when, and why” should be at the beginning of the e-mail. Also, be sure to allude to any desired action at the beginning of the e-mail where people will be more likely to see it.
  • Between Paragraphs?For ease of reading, use a full line between paragraphs rather than just indenting the line.

Style

  • Natural Language?For ease of reading, use a natural conversational style as if you were writing a letter to someone. For the same reason, use active, rather than passive, voice. This makes the language easier to read and more natural.
  • Professional Language and Content?Be certain to use professional language?clean, no slang, no off-color jokes. Your communication should be polite and business-like. Choose your words carefully. In your professional life, do not forward jokes or chain letters.
  • Abbreviations?Do not overuse abbreviations or acronyms especially when responding to individuals outside the school environment. This will keep your message from being lost among the initials. Avoid using abbreviations such as BTW. Some individuals may not be familiar with them, and it really doesn’t take much longer to type “by the way.”
  • Font?Do not use all caps, UNLESS YOU INTEND TO SHOUT! Sentence-style format will make your e-mail easier to read, and your message will not be mistaken for emotion.
  • Proofreading?Take time to do a spell check on your e-mail. A final read-through will assure that your grammar and spellling are correct.
  • Signature?Sign every e-mail from a real person, not a department. For example, “Sarah Jones, School Secretary, Jackson Elementary School” rather than “The Principal’s Office, Jackson Elementary School.”

Organization

  • Answering E-mails?Set a district standard as to when e-mails will be answered. If you have a 24-hour rule for returning phone calls, there should be a similar rule for answering e-mails.
  • Filing System?To save time, develop a system of filing folders to organize the e-mails that you need to save. This will allow you to find pertinent information easily.

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG