Do better email

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We are all stuck in email hell. And most of that hell is of our own and our colleagues doing.

Email is great. But when abused is worse than computer generated phone calls from insurance companies. So I thought, in the interests of sustaining sanity, that it would be a good time to provide some hints on how to use email and get things done.

HOW TO COMMUNICATE THROUGH E-MAILS AND BE RESPECTED (AND, MAYBE, LOVED).

MAKE YOUR EMAIL SHORT

Email is a tool for action or information. No one likes to read long emails. So make them short and to the point. If you want someone to do something “tell them”. If you are sending information “send it” and tell the recipient why they need to look at the mail.

Your first paragraph needs to contain the essence of what you're trying to communicate (a lot of people only read the first paragraph, so if you haven't 'got' them here, you risk your message being missed).

Paragraph properly and use short sentences.

DON’T USE CC UNNECESSARILY

cc only people that are relevant and involved in the discussion/subject. Don’t cc. someone just to protect your ‘behind’.

This is the same for “reply all”. Make sure that you only reply to people you directly want to communicate with. Sometimes someone has simply passed on the job. They don’t need to follow the project as they’re no longer involved in it.

SIMPLE GOOD. ‘CREATIVE’ BAD

Use simple text. Don’t put funny effects. Funny effects make you seem unprofessional. Remember email is a tool. Not a creative vehicle. Use plain text. Avoid HTML or other fancy effects (not everyone can read them). This also applies to fonts (typefaces). Use generic fonts such as Helvetica or Arial. Never ever use Comic Sans!

USE EMAIL SPARINGLY

This is obvious. Don’t use email if you can chat to someone directly. We are all guilty. We send an email to someone just across the room from us. Do this if it is an instruction. But not if it’s simply FYI.

And it’s really not necessary to send emails (or Whatsapp's) saying “thanks” or “ok” or “got that” etc. etc. It’s a waste of time. And not necessary. It might seem like good manners to do this. But in the end you’re just wasting someone’s time.

REMEMBER THAT AN EMAIL IS PUBLIC

Emails – like Twitter – have a habit of spreading beyond the people involved. Either by mistake or on purpose. So don’t insult people. Don’t complain about clients or colleagues. Or discuss confidential information. Your email will get out there. Never ever insult someone in an email!.

The more vicious your complaint or insult or gossip the greater the chance of your email being spread (after all, it's newsworthy!).

FORWARD WITH CIRCUMSPECTION

Not everyone will appreciate the joke you received. Some people might even be insulted. So don’t forward. Especially don’t mass forward.

AVOID ATTACHMENTS (ESPECIALLY LARGE ONES)

If you can avoid your recipient having to open up another application then just put the text in the body of your email. This is quicker and easier.

And remember, most servers reject large attachments. So avoid sending large attachments. As a rule anything bigger than 4Mb is a problem. 2Mb is OK. 100kb is best.

FOR MASS MAILINGS USE BCC.

If you are sending something to a large group of people who don’t all know each other send via BCC. That way no-one can see who else has been included. And it also avoids people mining the addresses for other purposes. But most importantly this stops people from automatically clicking the “reply all” button and creating a mass of emailing spam.

DON’T USE CAPS (UNLESS YOU MEAN TO!).

CAPS MAKES IT SEEM THAT YOU ARE SHOUTING! Only use CAPS for emphasis. Or for standing out when answering a question.

Remember that most people think that their intention and tone will be understood. But most recipients misinterpret the tone of the message. This leads to conflict and fights. So be careful what you say, AND HOW YOU SAY IT.

Again keep it simple, short and clear.

STAY CALM.

If someone makes you angry, don’t get into an email flame war. Wait 24 hours. And then talk to the person in person.

Never email anyone if you're drunk or stoned.

WATCH YOUR GRAMMAR

And finally, be professional and polite. Check your spelling and grammar. Just because your email is probably not going to be printed out doesn’t mean you can be sloppy.