One of my favorite school lessons as a girl was learning how to write a letter. Softly patterned stationery, flowing manuscript, and a smart little envelope with the address, return label, and stamp positioned evenly had an irresistible appeal to me, a lover of words and writing! Much has been written today on the continued place of the handwritten letter in a well bred woman’s lifestyle. Certainly, the physical letter isn’t going away, but emailing is on the rise and is often the best option for many circumstances. I email many times a day, including receiving direct marketing or newsletter emails, contacting people or websites online, and doing business with the companies I patronize. Once a month or so I send an email newsletter to my family and close friends as an alternative to using Facebook. Over the years I have developed a set of email standards to practice good etiquette in this common, yet important area of communication.
Proper spelling / grammar
The first area must be obvious, but it amazes me how many people disregard these areas when writing online. It doesn’t seem to be such an issue in planned writing, such as in articles or on personal websites, but quickly dashed off replies to posts and articles more often than not contain many errors. It’s hard to take someone’s viewpoint seriously when the packaging is so ugly! Likewise, no matter how brief an email is, proper spelling and grammar use to the best of one’s knowledge and ability will go a long way toward enhancing one’s point and ensuring a smooth dialog.
When beginning any email conversation, I mirror the form of a friendly letter and begin with greetings. For most people, even businesses and strangers, I begin with “Dear So-and-so.” I don’t feel that this is overly mushy or out of place but rather that it is a conventional method of greeting that has lost its intimate intonation but maintained a professional tone. Many of the formal emails I receive from businesses and companies begin with “Dear,” as well. If I do not feel comfortable writing “Dear,” such as to a man I am acquainted with (e.g. real estate agent) or a man I email regularly (e. g. insurance agent) I write a different greeting such as “Good morning” or “Hello.” Since all of the email clients I use today have the conversation mode enabled, I do not always put a greeting on subsequent replies within the same message. I try to play it by ear and sense whether or not the greeting is appropriate. Using a greeting must be done with care because it can easily become pretentious if one loses sight of the reason for beginning in such a way. I use greetings to show respect to the recipient, to open the message in a pleasant fashion, and to gain the recipient’s attention positively.
Contrary to a personal letter that is less often received and longer enjoyed, succinct is best when emailing. I am preaching to the choir as a loquacious person, myself. Prior experience has taught me, though, that a multitude of words can either diminish an email’s point or lose it altogether. Not to mention, businesses and companies take a person more seriously when her email is brief and on point.
This is a tricky one. Remember the days of instant messaging? It seemed most of my friends and I spent more time sending each other emoticons than sending words. After all, an emoticon’s tone was more easily understood than words were. Although emoticons are still an option in Gmail, at least, they generally do not have a place in personal emails where the words really do matter more than the pixels (a cutting remark followed by a winky face still cuts) and they absolutely do not belong in formal email communication. Because I write the way I would talk, I don’t worry too much about the tone as I write. Before sending, I usually read the email over in a disinterested manner to check for sarcasm, unintended emphasis, and any other confusing tone. However, I think people everywhere are starting to realize that communication via internet is one dimensional and that tone can only be so varied in this context. In other words, an email may sound boring or monotone, but it’s just an email. If it’s not burning a bridge, you’re probably fine!
Raise your hand if you returned from vacation (or work the previous day) and found 1,000 unread emails in your inbox! We all have limited time and most don’t want to spend it sorting through endless piles of mail, virtual paper notwithstanding. Thus, when writing an email, the well bred woman will make sure to include all her points in the first email instead of constantly sending P.S.’s over the course of the day (I am really preaching to the choir again here; this is not a point I’ve mastered). Although I’m not sure if anyone still forwards emails, another way to declutter the inboxes is to refrain from sending forwarded and chain emails. I have witnessed painful episodes of people’s cutting off communications with others simply due to their refusal to stop forwarding chain emails. The privilege of contacting one another instantly and freely should not be abused by overuse.
Finally, a note on those forwarded and group emails. Sometimes forwarding is necessary or requested; many people do not mind “form” emails where the whole family gets updated at once. But unless she has obtained specific permission from all the recipients to share their email addresses, one should always use blind carbon copy and send the email to herself so that the recipients do not gain each other’s email addresses without their consent. It’s just common courtesy, and it shields people from those who do indiscriminately forward emails. Email address mining and selling is a real concern; I even found a job on a job board one time that basically offered to pay a person for every legitimate email address they could provide the company! So the well bred woman will always respect the privacy of others by not sharing email addresses inadvertently or otherwise.