TypeTalk: The 10 Commandments of Email Etiquette

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.
A.Email

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.
B.Email

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!

C.Email

Proofread all of your professional email to make sure they contain proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. How many errors can you find on the upper example before you look below it for the corrected version?

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.D.Email

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.

This is what can happen if you use typographically correct, “smart” quotes in an email: the upper version is what is sent, and the middle is what might be received. Below it is the safe way to send emails – using “dumb” quotes. (This setting mimics a real example!)

This is what can happen if you use typographically correct, “smart” quotes in an email: the upper version is what is sent, and the middle is what might be received. Below it is the safe way to send emails – using “dumb” quotes. (This setting mimics a real example!)

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.

Never use fonts from your computer or device that the other party might not have (left), or it will very likely appear different – and possibly not very attractive – on their device (right). Note that these signatures are set in the same size of different fonts: 42 pt. Rosarian and Arial.

Never use fonts from your computer or device that the other party might not have (left), or it will very likely appear different – and possibly not very attractive – on their device (right). Note that these signatures are set in the same size of different fonts: 42 pt. Rosarian and Arial.

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.

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Posted on: May 18, 2015

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

9 Comments on TypeTalk: The 10 Commandments of Email Etiquette

  1. I can easily think of two more:

    11) Don’t use all caps
    12) Don’t keep the entire thread, if you need/want to refer to past comments, delete everything but those comments
    13) If there are a number of people CC’d in a thread, be specific to whom you are commenting upon. E.g., the statement “Exactly” when not referencing what you are referring to is thereby lost.

  2. I would start with something like.

    If you are working online, pros always respond to emails within minutes or hours, never days or weeks. Let people know when you are available. For example, when starting a relationship online I always say, “I’m normally online from 9am to midnight Monday through Saturday, Central Time US.”

  3. Unless you are communicating as part of a group discussion in which the participants are familiar with everyone else’s email address,please use blind copy (bcc). I really object to people sharing my contact details with all of their other contacts.

  4. Using plain text emails will ensure you don’t run foul of points 5 and 6.

  5. How about: If you are sending an email query to someone you don’t know, fully identify yourself, your company, your contact info. I hate sending back replies to emails saying “Who are you?”

  6. be specific for dates, for exapmle, talk to you Wednesday the 15th at 2PM your time (or my time), not tomorrow at 2. Often we are not in the same time zone and we may not see the mail on the day that you send … I live across the international date line.

  7. oops – example … JTP

  8. Roberto Blake

    July 24, 2015 at 8:49 am

    This is a great well though out list. I think that I’ve been doing most of this intuitively without realizing it, but there are some points here that I didn’t consider such as avoiding “smart” typography. Great post!

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