As with any human interaction there are a certain set of unwritten rules of etiquette. Not sticking to the basic etiquette of email can lead to annoyed friends or even get you in quite a bit of hot water at the office and even leave you with your job on the line. Whether you're new to email or painfully clueless, there are 12 absolute golden rules one must adhere to in email communication.
1. Do not - under any circumstances - forward chain letters
A chain email or one of those messages full of inappropriate jokes or pictures are some of the most annoying things you can receive on your email especially when they are from people you actually know. Threatening your friends with possible death for not forwarding a creepy message is never a good idea! Not even if you preface the message with, "I don't normally forward these but "!
2. Respond to group emails appropriately
This is usually a novice mistake. There is a difference between the "reply" button and the "reply all" button when responding to an email. If you're part of a group message which one you choose can make a huge difference. Be very careful when responding to group messages as your response will be sent to everyone else in that group, this has been known to get people in some serious trouble.
3. Use actual English
Text message or chat room short hand is almost never acceptable via email messages. While terms like "lol" or "jk" may save a half of a second in typing a message it can come off extremely unprofessional and even make you look childish. It is better to spell it out and save your image especially in professional messages but even in your private ones.
4. Don't use your company email for private emails
Even if your company doesn't already disallow this, it's simply not a good idea to use your company email for personal use. Many larger companies or companies with proprietary secrets to protect will screen and even sample the emails of their employees. Seriously. You may not want your boss to know your weekend plans so take that extra couple of minutes to send all of your personal messages through your own account.
5. Utilize CC and BCC properly
These cool little tools aren't only great time savers but they've been known to work as proof a message has been sent and save your butt. CC or carbon copy sends a copy of your message to this third party. BCC or blind carbon copy will send a copy to the third party but in secret. The use of BCC is most commonly used when sending a group email to people who may not know each other in an effort to keep the names and email addresses private.
6. Be careful what you say
It's a bit of a creepy thought but every single email ever sent has been saved somewhere in cyberspace. This means being very careful about what you say is more important than you may think. Think about the possible repercussions of your words or if it were to fall into the wrong hands.
7. Lose the attitude
It's easy to forget that there is an actual human being on the other end of the computer. A bad attitude, anger and frustration are still somehow palpable via email messages if you're not careful. Utilize the convenience of email messaging to take a minute or a day to respond to an upsetting message so you don't say something you don't mean -- or at least shouldn't say.
8. Don't be a spammer
If it hasn't happened already your email account will likely be hacked one day. Other than reinforcing that you should change your passwords frequently to protect your personal information, the hackers usually will use your account to spam your friends. Though it's not your fault it's email etiquette to promptly apologize and warn your friends and colleagues of the spamming.
9. Respect laws and regulations
These days there actually are laws and regulations put into place dictating what you can and cannot send, for example bulk messages to receivers in certain countries. Also you should be aware of your companies' policies on using your company email system to promote a side business or a personal cause. Yes you may actually get in trouble for blasting a message to your office advertising that your daughter is selling Girl Scout cookies.
10. Get clarification
If you find an email confusing or the tone of the email is ambiguous it is perfectly fine email etiquette to ask for clarification from the sender. Effective communication is difficult enough, but when you detract the physical human interaction and remove the subtleties of spoken language, meaning can be extremely confusing. Ask questions but don't forget the tact.
11. Delete unnecessary content
When responding or forwarding a message it never hurts to delete unnecessary information. If you find yourself in the midst of a long email conversation you may want to delete the older portions of the conversation to help speed up the sending and receiving process. It is particularly polite to delete that obnoxious send/receive information at the top of the message when forwarding a message. This information is generally unnecessary and a visual eyesore.
12. Keep signatures simple
Using an automatic signature for your email messages is a great feature and is definitely encouraged. What is not encouraged are those email signatures 20 lines long. There is simply no need for this! Convention dictates typically your name, basic contact information, position, and maybe a website link. Pictures of your adorable puppy or long Shakespearean quotes are definitely to be avoided.
The rules of email etiquette are fairly simply and once you're familiar with them become somewhat intuitive as you go along. Sticking to the above 12 golden rules should give you a strong jump-start on still quite a few of email senders out there!
Adam Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor. He Co-Founded YoungEntrepreneur.com along with his brother Matthew. Adam is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: "Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right" and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.