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Using Email

Electronic mail, or email, is a popular communication tool in the business world. When composing an email message, simple rules can be followed to ensure emails make a positive impression and achieve the response wanted.

General Guidelines

  • Make sure email is the best tool to use. Do not use email as an excuse to avoid personal contact such as face‐to‐face or voice‐to‐voice. Telephone calls are better for thoughtful discussions. A face‐to‐face discussion is better for resolving issues. Telephone calls or face‐to‐face visits are better for confidential or extremely important information and discussion, delivery of unpleasant news, when there is a possibility of being misunderstood, or when an immediate response is needed.

Subject Lines

A newspaper headline has two functions: to grab attention and tell what the article is about, so the reader can decide whether to read further. Email subject lines should do exactly the same thing. Use a few well‐chosen words, so the recipient knows at a glance what the email is about. Never leave the subject line blank

  • If your message is one of a regular series of emails, such as a weekly project report, include the date in the subject line. And for a message requiring a response, include a call to action, such as ʺPlease reply by November 7.” Making appropriate use of the subject line increases chances the email will be read, rather than deleted without more than a glance.

Make Your Point

  • When using email, strike the right balance between friendly and professional, without errors. Make the point quickly and persuasively, and come across as conversational without sounding too casual or familiar. Use email to send minimal information or reply to someone with specific information. As with traditional business letters, each email should be clear and concise, with the purpose of the message detailed in the very first paragraph. Sentences should be short and to the point, using proper grammar and correct spelling. The body of the email should contain all pertinent information and should be direct and informative.
  • One of the advantages of email compared with traditional letters is it doesn’t cost any more to send several emails than it does to send one. So, if you need to communicate with someone about a number of different things, consider writing a separate email on each subject. Your correspondent can then reply to each one individually and in the appropriate time frame. One topic might only require a short reply he/she can send immediately. Another topic might require more research. By writing separate messages, you should get clearer answers and help other people manage their inboxes.
  • If you do want to put several points in an email ‐ perhaps because they relate to the same project ‐ consider presenting each point in a separate, numbered paragraph. Each point then stands out; significantly increasing the likelihood each point will be addressed.

Specify Response

  • Make sure to include any call to action, such as a phone call or follow‐up appointment. Then make sure to include your contact information, including your name, title, and phone numbers. Do this even with internal messages. The easier you make it for someone else to respond, the more likely they are to do so.

Other Recommended Practices

Additional recommendations pertain to sending and receiving emails in CSS. Following best practices and procedures will promote the highest level of performance for all employees.

  • Emails are open access. Email can have legal implications. The words of the sender reflect the organization, even if the sender uses a disclaimer. All email is the property of the agency. Email never goes away. Even when you delete it from the trash bin, it can be recovered.
  • Do not use elaborate backgrounds within emails, pictures in the signature line, or any other additions that will unnecessarily add to the size of your messages. Signature lines should contain only contact information (title, office address, telephone numbers, etc.).
  • Never use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS or all lower case letters to write the text of an email. Using all capital letters is viewed as the equivalent of yelling. Using all lower case appears unprofessional.
  • Limit your messages to business related issues. Do not send personal photos, videos, chain letters, inspirational or funny slide shows from the internet. Keep your messages brief and to the point.
  • Be aware of the size of the mail group you are sending to, and do not add unnecessary audiences. Do not select “Reply to All” unless absolutely necessary. Nor is it necessary to reply to all emails received.
  • Ask friends who email you from outside not to send personal mail containing photos, videos or internet slide shows to your work e‐mail address.
  • If you get an email with large, non‐work‐related files attached such as photos or videos, do not forward to your personal email address, as this ties up bandwidth a second time. Delete it and remove it, to keep our system from automatically storing those files.
  • Only use the “Read Receipt” message tracking option when absolutely necessary.
  • Microsoft Word automatically creates a hyperlink when you include an email address in the body of a letter. To avoid creating a hyperlink, enclose email addresses in left and right angle brackets <***>
  • When sending large work related files such as photos, limit the size of the attachment to 5 megabytes. In short, sending larger than necessary messages to audiences greater than required adds needless congestion to the system.

Be a Good Correspondent

Make sure you go through your inbox regularly and respond as appropriate. This is a simple act of courtesy and will serve to encourage others to reply to your emails in a timely manner. If a detailed response is required and you don’t have time to pull together information quickly, send a holding reply saying you received the message, and indicating when you will respond fully.

How frequently you should check your mail will depend on the nature of your work, but try to avoid interrupting a task you’re working on to check email, simply because you wonder if something interesting has come in.

Always set the Out of Office assistant when you will be away from email for a day or more, whether on leave, or in meetings.

Internal Email

Internal emails, just like other emails, should not be too informal. Remember, these are written forms of communication that can be printed and viewed by people other than those for whom they were originally intended. Always use your spell checker and avoid slang.