Gone are the days when we relied upon the telephone and the mail service for most communications. Today’s digital world relies heavily on email to make things happen in the world of business and commerce. There are many unspoken guidelines for email communications that are not only smart practices, but good manners as well. Here are my top ten recommendations for professional (and in many cases, personal) digital communications:
1. I have to begin with my biggest pet peeve – an issue that I deal with on a regular basis: always acknowledge receipt of emails, especially if you can’t reply in depth within a few days. This rule might seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how often I don’t receive a reply to an email, and have to send a follow-up query a week or two later, which makes me feel like a pushy nag. It is maddening – and a waste of time and energy – for the sender to wonder if their email was received. On occasion, emails do get lost in cyberspace: some disappear completely, while others mysteriously find their way into Junk folders, even after there have been previous communications. If you don’t have the time for a complete response within a couple of days, indicate this to the sender. A brief thanks, got it, or I’ll get back to you is enough to indicate that not only have you received their email, but you intend to address it at a later date. In addition, if you are away on business or vacation for more than a day or two and cannot receive or reply to emails, create an auto message that indicates this.
2. Always acknowledge receipt of attachments and links to downloadable files, even if you don’t have the time to read or review them. Once again, cybermail is not 100% reliable, and attachments and downloadable files are usually important; not receiving or responding to them can be interpreted as disinterest, and even worse, irresponsibility. When sending attachments, get into the habit of indicating somewhere in the body text of the email that there is a file attached. I often receive emails with attachments that I don’t notice because they were not specifically mentioned as being attached.
3. Make sure your email contains correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. In today’s world of spelling and grammar checkers as well as digital dictionaries, there is no excuse for these errors. They are not only unprofessional, but also show a lack of pride and attention to details – an important trait for all professionals, especially designers! Always do a final review before hitting send or risk coming off as uneducated and amateurish. Even auto checkers can be wrong!
4. Avoid the use/overuse of texting acronyms and emoticons. These shortcuts were originally intended for brief, informal digital communications such as texting and IMing, as well as for social media platforms with limited character counts, such as Twitter. This includes using the numeral 2 instead of spelling out “too”, common acronyms (BTW, LOL and TTYL), and emoticons (winks, smiley faces, etc.). Their use in business email is inappropriate and unsophisticated, particularly when developing new relationships. Once a degree of informality and even friendship has developed between both parties, they can be used sparingly, but this a personal preference.
5. Don’t use “smart” typography in emails. This includes typographer’s quotes and apostrophes, en and em dashes, and occasionally even bullets. These typographically correct characters many not translate accurately by every email client, and your reader might wind up seeing “mystery” characters, or at the least, not the ones you intended. Stick to the QWERTY keyboard characters to avoid these unexpected and unpredictable results. NOTE: If composing your email in an application that automatically defaults to these smart characters, convert them back for emails, which are not expected to have proper typographic conventions.
6. When composing emails and keystroked signatures, use universal system fonts that are installed on most computers and devices, such as Arial, Geneva, Verdana, Trebuchet, and Times. Why? Because if you use other fonts that are activated on your computer but not located or active on the reader’s device, they will default to something else. Avoid the temptation to over-design your emails, which should be composed for simple, effective, and readable communications.
7. Keep the email subject brief and direct for quick and easy recognition by the reader. In addition, when changing the topic of an email, change the subject field to reflect this. This is especially helpful when searching for an email on a specific topic.
8. Keep emails brief and get to the point quickly; a reader’s attention span for email is much shorter than for print. If you tend to write a lengthy discourse, edit, edit, and then edit again.
9. Use bulleted points to help your reader navigate and scan the most important information quickly.
10. Separate paragraphs with line spaces instead of indents to improve visual clarity, scannability, and to help break up necessarily lengthy, dense text.Tags