25 February 2009

The art and science of email

The knowledge era includes exchange of communications through electronic media including the telephones, Internet, Emails, Instant messaging systems and video/voice conferences. Personal and corporate communications are increasingly shifting from the fax mode to the email mode and many individuals have been drawn into the email-culture without induction or formal training.

In result, unforeseen incidents create a recoil effect without the offender realising his mistakes and the resulting damage spoils relationships not only between individuals but also their organisations. Digital Oman walks through the art and science of email communications bringing out the various etiquettes involved.

It’s your choice
In no way can emails replace a face-to-face communication, if the task on hand is to communicate clearly and get the receiver’s acknowledgment. So if you choose to email, then reconsider your choice or complement your email with a supplementary follow-up phone call later.

Email address
To begin with email address can be friendly and easily memorable. In the excitement of associating every name and location details, some email addresses are as complicated as the passwords are meant to be. The idea is ‘Keep it Simple and Short’. It is possible to group certain emails, to avoid selecting or typing the address individually. Grouping could be based on close family, friends, colleagues or even department staff. To avoid sending the email accidentally before completing / reviewing it, enter the address after you have satisfactorily read through the email.

Considering the flood of text on the digital highway, trim your emails in length and certainly avoid trailing messages in the case of forwarded emails. In a corporate scenario, this is more important because the trail of email messages at the end reveal the inside story and internal discussions to the recipient who may be your client.

Again when you receive an email copied to others, use your discretion to click ‘Reply to All’ only when you think others need to know of your email response. If you want someone to be aware of the discrete email exchanges then use the ‘Bcc’ option (Blind copy) instead of carrying a whole bunch of addresses in the ‘To’ or the ‘Cc’ section (Courtesy copy). In general parlance ‘To’ address indicates action while the ‘Cc’ denotes for information. In case you receive an email not meant for you reply back courteously to the sender that you received it by mistake and it is needless to copy anyone one else in this message.

Subject line
The subject can be effectively used to highlight the context or even the purpose or main intent of action. When replying to emails, do not alter the subject as most email clients archive them into threads based on this line. Indicate action response required for the email. For example it could Info (meaning for information), review, approve, attend, request, invite, etc. The priority setting as ‘High’ or ‘Low’ can be combined for timely responses.

Creativity is for arts and linguistic articulacy is for literature and so email as an effective communication can be written in simple straightforward language. Do run a spell check before you click the ‘send’ button or else you will miss reading some unintended jokes made by your very own spelling mistakes. When you email a friend, if it on business then do include a formal salutation, greeting and a note of thanks. Use of capital letters indicates shouting and so avoid using them.

In case you need to catch the reader’s attention on certain text use highlight, bold or underline aesthetically. Even change of fonts colours can be useful to retain the info in the reader’s mind say for example in an email invite, date, place and time can be shown in a different font colour / size.

Most email services have a auto-response setting to respond to your inbox messages. While it is not necessary to respond to every incoming email with a received-confirmation, planning vacations and long-absence certainly means indicating this with an auto-responder message.

Matter matters
The content of the email must be succinct and preferably on only a single main issue. If there are different messages, then choose to send them in different emails with an appropriate subject line. Emails need not be essays and longer emails are normally postponed for action later due to people’s psychology. Grammar and spellings must be followed and email clients can be set to automatic ‘spell check’ mode before sending an email.

In general the main subject content could be kept within 60% of the right side window frame to avoid scrolling (when Preview pane is activated). So take up one matter and express it in a couple of lines including expected action from the receiver. Use bullet list if there are several issues for action or response. Numbering these can make it easy for people to respond based the action items and in replies you can also use highlights.

According to research reading from screen is more difficult than reading from paper and so structure your content into short paragraphs with spaces in between. Some details can be listed out or tabulated.


Anonymous said...

it would be good if you would explain how to add RSS to a web site / include RSS feeds into a web site

Zanil Hyder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zanil Hyder said...

It was a nice post on Email Ettiquete , about how small things well known but not well practiced.

I wish to correct you to not use group mails as a practice as sometimes it results in bounced emails as they may not get resolved due to change of mail servers ie Microsoft exchange.Lotus Domino etc and sometimes about updates.I am only saying that there are random issues with it though not common.Usually there are no issues within corporates but outside it begins to have issues.

I was of the belief Cc was Carbon Copy and Bcc was Blind Carbon copy lemme check

It was a well presented post.