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Writing and Public Speaking

Email Writing Tips
By:Manjusha Nambiar

Email is one of the most popular applications used on the Internet. Unfortunately it is also one of the most abused. So, how does one use email effectively? This article contains some rules and guidelines to help you. These are not absolute rules, but are sensible guidelines that help people communicate more effectively using email.

What's it an email?
An email can be anything from an informal one-liner to a formal letter. Before you write, consider the purpose of your message. Keep your email short and to the point - it is best to limit yourself to five or six bullet points or a couple of paragraphs. Try to have only one topic per email. Do not send your email to people who don't want to read it.

Think carefully before clicking Reply to all- did you really mean to reply to everyone or just the sender? Use the CC and BCC fields where appropriate.

Don't forward or bounce email unnecessarily. Bouncing is when you have no intention of modifying the content of message - the complete and original information is passed on elsewhere. Forwarding is to pass on an email which is modified, annotated or edited. Forward if you have something to add or change, bounce if you don't, or if the message has been send to you in error.

Never forward virus hoaxes, chain letters, petitions or "make money fast" schemes. Never reply to SPAM or junk mail - ever.

Subject line
Your mail should include a subject line. This is what people see when they browse through their inbox and it is often the only clue people will get as to what the email is about. Make sure the subject line is meaningful and descriptive - dont just put Hello. Messages without subject lines are also more likely to be identified and tagged as SPAM or deleted before being read by the recipient. If you are replying to a message but are changing the subject of the conversation, change the subject too - or better still, start a new message altogether.

Use only plain text in your email. Note that people use different email programs (Mulberry, Outlook) and platforms (Apple Macs, PCs, or Linux/Unix computers) to access their mail. Messages do not necessarily translate well between them if you are not using plain text. Remember that what you create in your compose window is not necessarily what the recipient sees - they may not have colour or font-style formatting in their email program, for example. If you must compose an email in RTF or HTML, provide a plain-text alternative.

Use correct grammar and spelling

Use correct grammar and spelling. Poorly-worded and misspelt messages are hard to read and potentially confusing. Just because email is fast mode of communication does not mean that it should be slipshod.

Don't attach files unnecessarily. Attachments take longer to download than plain text emails and can be a source of viruses. Instead of sending an attachment, consider putting the text you wish to send in the body of your email or send a URL (web address) or some other reference instead. If you really do need to send an attachment, make sure that the recipient of your email can open the attachment you send. It is best not to use proprietary formats such as MS Word, or PowerPoint. Never send attachments to email lists or to large groups of people. The sheer volume entailed in many copies of a large attachment can overwhelm mail systems.

A signature is a short piece of text added to the foot your emails. It usually contains contact details about yourself. Keep your signature short (4 to 6 lines) and to the point.
Separate it from the body of your email using two dashes and a space (i.e. -- ). The signature should be plain text only, not RTF, not HTML and certainly no graphics or images. It should include your name, your position and possibly an address and phone number. Some people add famous or humorous quotes to their signatures. This can be acceptable and add character if done properly. Choose quotes on a neutral topic. It is probably best to avoid religious or political statements or anything people may take offence at, especially in your formal signature.

Dont mark emails high priority and URGENT
Don't use the words URGENT or IMPORTANT in the subject line of an email your recipient may have many such emails to deal with. If your message really is urgent or important email is not the correct communication method to be using in the first place; the telephone is probably better.

Addresses and personal names
A Personal name is an arbitrary string that many mail programs will allow you to define, which is attached to your e-mail address as a textual comment. Always provide a personal name if your mail system allows it - a personal name attached to your address identifies you better than your email address can on its own. Use a sensible personal name: "Guess who" or other such phrases are annoying as personal names and hinder the recipient's quick identification of you and your message.

Include enough of the original message in your replies as it will help the recipient to place your reply in context. Quote back only the smallest amount you need to make your context clear. Use some kind of visual indication to distinguish between text quoted from the original message and your new text - this makes the reply much easier to follow. Pay careful attention to where your reply is going to end up: it can be embarrassing for you if a personal message ends up on a mailing list, and it's generally annoying for the other list members.

Privacy concerns
An email is neither private nor secure. Therefore be careful what you write - sending an email is like sending a postcard so messages must be treated with caution. Do not discuss confidential or sensitive information in email. Check and double check all addresses and content before you send.

Be careful about what you read it is pretty easy to forge an email. Apply common sense before assuming any message is valid - even if you think you know who it came from. Never open an attachment unless you know what it is and you are expecting it. Always have up-to-date virus checking software on your computer, and make sure it is working.

Don't forward or bounce email unnecessarily and never forward virus hoaxes, chain letters, petitions or "make money fast" schemes. Never reply to SPAM or junk mail - ever.

Courtesy and politeness
Most people tend to respond to an email without time for reflection. This is rarely appropriate. It is also inappropriate to send strongly emotional email. It may not encourage a positive response either. Responding to heated email should be done cautiously if at all; waiting till the next day is often wise.

Don't write in all CAPITALS as it is considered to be SHOUTING. Avoid sarcastic comments, as these can be taken out of context and be very hurtful. Use emoticons or smilies sparingly (if at all). They are never totally appropriate or professional in email communication. Do not circulate emails with offensive content - this constitutes bullying.

Don't expect an immediate answer. Just because you don't get an answer from someone in ten minutes does not mean that he or she is ignoring you, and is no cause for offence. Email is all about dealing with your communications when you are able to do so.

Manjusha Nambiar
The author is the editor of www.perfectyourenglish.com Visit her website for more articles on business English writing and speaking.

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