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Communication has come a long way. And, with the ever-rising popularity of the Internet as a vehicle for formal business communication, Netiquette, a relatively new concept, is a must-know for every professional. It is a set of standards of acceptable behaviour you need to follow when online, and includes rules you need to follow while sending and receiving formal business missives.
Why do you need netiquette? For two reasons: It creates an impression of professionalism. And it ensures the correct message gets across. Some simple rules, if followed while sending e-mail, make all the difference between a good professional impression and a bad one.
Why are you writing to me?
State the purpose of your e-mail -- it is a good practice to have a subject line that explains what follows and how high on the priority list it should be. This information has to be in two places:
i. The subject box, which is part of the compose e-mail form. Here, state the reason for your mail. If you are writing it to apply for leave, you could say 'Leave application'.
ii. Subject line in the main e-mail body; just as you would in any formal business letter. Here, you could say:
Sub: Leave application, April 1-April 15 2006
Greet me right
Address people you don't know as Mr, Mrs, Ms or Dr. Address someone by first name only if you are on a first name basis with each other; it is okay, under these circumstances, to use first names on a formal business missive.
If you do not know the name of the person, or whether it is a man or a woman, it is best to address the person concerned as: Dear Sir / Madam, Whomsoever it may concern, The Manager; etc.
And your point is?
Get to the point.
Verbosity and extreme terseness are two ends of a spectrum, you should try for the middle -- state your point without sounding rudely brief or chatty.
Remember to state your point and what you expect from the reader of your mail in clear terms. There should also be a clear structure -- an introduction, body and conclusion.
2 use or not 2 use...
Never use 'sms-ese' or informal abbreviations in your email. U instead of you, 2 instead of to or too, plz instead of please, thanx instead of thanks and 4 instead of for are a strict no-no.
While are all right for personal e-mail, they show a level of informality not encouraged in formal business communication. Frequently used abbreviations you may use include FYI (for your information), Pvt., Ltd., Co., etc., OK.
The magic of spells
Though using a spell check is a must, don't rely on it completely. The most common areas of errors and confusion are -- two, too and to.
Wrong: I would like two order too other books two.
Correct: I would like to order two other books, too.
A hit or miss effort with spellings does not help -- use a dictionary.
Good grammar is very important. A correctly framed sentence, with proper punctuation in place, is what you should aim at. Be very careful with commas, especially, as they change the meaning of a sentence.
A good example would be:
Wrong: All foreign tea, tree, oils are free from duty.
Correct: All foreign tea tree oils are free from duty.
Use action words and 'I' statements -- they evoke a sense of reassurance in the reader. For eg:
On receipt of your earlier mail, I/ we have already set things in motion and I/ we assure you that you will receive your order on time.
I was responsible for the day-to-day working and administration of the office; planning, scheduling, and achieving targets were my areas of contribution.
Mind your P's and Q's
Though a friendly tone is encouraged, basic corporate etiquette rules do apply. So, maintain a well-mannered, friendly polite stance.
Gender-neutral language is politically correct -- couch your e-mail accordingly. This essentially means you should not assume a person's gender on the basis of the designation. Keep the e-mail neutral.
Attachment breeds detachment
With worms, viruses, and spam, nobody wants to open attachments anymore, not even if the e-mail is from one's own mother. If you do need to send an attachment, confirm this with the recipient first.
Like an arrow shot from a bow
An e-mail is like the spoken word -- once sent, you can't recall it. By the time you press the recall button, chances are it has already reached and, with it, your recall message. This compounds the embarrassment. So, think before you dash off something.
The KISS rules
Keep It Short and Simple. Use simple sentences, words that don't need a dictionary. Use universal formats -- not all systems support HTML rich style, or tables and tabs. You could lose much by way of appearances if your recipient's system can't support all that fancy formatting you spent hours working on.
Smileys and other emoticons are a way to add 'body language' to e-mail. When used appropriately and sparingly, smileys do bring a touch of personalisation to otherwise impersonal mail. Of course, due care with regards to the appropriateness of the communication must be taken.
You would not use emoticons in job application covering letters, while delivering bad news (delay in order, loss of job, etc). Use discretion.
Emoticons are generally used to add comfort to the communication or soften the blow. The most common smiley faces are probably these:
:-) OR :) Just a smile / can be used for greeting or making a point gently.
:-( OR :( To show mild displeasure or that something is not going the way you want it to.
;-) Equivalent to a wink -- used to convey that a particular comment is a joke and not to be taken too seriously.
;-> To be used sparingly, and with people you know well, as this signifies a provocative comment.
Humour doesn't travel
What seems funny to you may be offensive to someone else. Remember, humour doesn't travel well. Jokes about religion, sports, political figures, and women may come across as tasteless and should be avoided at all costs.
Swift and prompt
Be prompt in replying. That is why we have the Internet. If a prompt response were not expected, one would use the postal service.
CAPITAL, MY DEAR FELLOW
IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS, IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. You could get really angry responses to your e-mail if you do so, and trigger a flame war.
Fw. Fw. Fw.
Do not forward chain letters -- simply delete them. Also avoid forwarding them to professional contacts.
Shh... It's a secret
If it is a secret, don't send it via e-mail -- you never know where it will end up.
Keep the thread of the message as part of your mail; this will help keep the context handy. The thread is the previous message/s in context to which this e-mail is being written. Last but not least, please, please read the e-mail before you click the 'Send' button. It will save you a lot of embarrassment and misunderstanding.
Yati Doshi is a corporate trainer based in Mumbai.
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