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Email Manners

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Email is such a convenient form of communication, we sometimes forget: There’s etiquette for emailing.

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Mind Your Email Manners” caught my eye. It draws from the advice of business etiquette expert Jacqueline Williams. Email is quick, efficient, and casual, but especially in business, Ms. Williams says we should actually “Err on the side of being more formal.” First, she says, “An email deserves a greeting,” a salutation. If you’ve never met the person you’re emailing, use “Dear (whoever);” if you know them, say “Hello (and their name.)” If you exchange emails with someone frequently, take your cues from that person. If they say “Hi Penna,” I might want to do the same. Ms. Williams doesn’t say this, but I think, if the email exchange on a topic is taking place within a short space of time, it’s ok to drop the salutation once it becomes a conversation.

Speaking of timing, apparently the rule is: Reply to an email within 24 hours. Ouch. You may not have the answer right away, but Jacqueline Williams says “reply anyway” and tell the person when you’ll get back to them.

She also says: start your email with “some little nicety” —‘Happy New Year’, ‘I hope you had a great weekend.’ Again, I’m convicted, but think how nice it is when someone begins that way. After that, you can — and should — be very direct and succinct. Keep sentences short. Ms. Williams has written two books on business success and etiquette and founded The Protocol School in Palm Beach, Florida. She says, “The chances that somebody will respond increase when the email is shorter.”

It’s also best and easiest to read an email when paragraphs are kept short.

Other tips: Make sure your spelling and grammar is impeccable. And always put something in the email’s subject line and try to make it very informative.

Remember, says Ms. Williams, “Keep emotions out of it.” Emails can be forwarded. Also, think beyond your words. When someone is reading an email from you, they can’t see your face, so that email should smile appropriately. And what about smiley faces and exclamation points to show the reader your excitement about something? Jacqueline Williams says these are OK, but only with good friends.

Don’t use TEXT language in emails. Shortcuts like LOL or XXX’s and OOO’s are best reserved for your closest friends or the one you love. And sign off appropriately. ‘Best regards’ or ‘Kind regards’ conveys formality with affection.

Manners are guides to help us live life with dignity, showing people respect. Good manners recognize the value of other human beings. We should pay attention to how we treat people in both small and major ways and good manners help us do that. Even in something as simple as an email, the way we communicate has the potential to lift someone’s spirits. Believing saints should be gracious emailers.


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