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The E-Mail ABCs


Most of today's students grew up with e-mail. Many believe that e-mail is a totally different kind of medium, unfettered by the rules that govern letter writing. Most classroom teachers didn't grow up using e-mail. They believe that e-mail should adhere to the same rules of grammar and style as snail mail. Who's right?

Let's take a look at the ABCs of e-mail etiquette.
Included: Twenty-six tips for composing and sending e-mail.

Most of today's students grew up with e-mail. They know that "ROTFL" means Rolling On The Floor Laughing, that "ROTFLMHO" means Rolling On The Floor Laughing My Head Off, and that "TTFN" means Ta Ta For Now. They know how to make hundreds of emoticons. But do they know how to make the right impression when e-mailing anyone other than their closest friends?

Most classroom teachers, on the other hand, did not grow up using e-mail. They might know that "BTW" means By The Way and that "FYI" means For Your Information. They might know that : ) indicates good humor, while: ( suggests anger or sadness. But do they know how the skills needed for writing and sending e-mails differ from those for writing and sending snail mail? Do they know what their students need to know when e-mailing a grandparent, a potential employer, or a close friend?

Do they know these ABCs of e-mail etiquette?

Acronyms -- such as TMI (Too Much Information), LOL (Laugh Out Loud), or IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) -- can confuse (and consequently annoy) e-mail recipients. Keep abbreviations to a few of the most commonly used ones.

Be sure to double-check the address that your e-mail is going to. You don't want to send an invitation to a surprise birthday party to the birthday girl herself (or worse!).

Cluttered e-mails waste time and effort. When participating in an ongoing e-mail "conversation," don't start a completely new e-mail each time you respond, but don't include all the text from the entire e-mail thread either. Include at least -- and only -- the minimum amount of content necessary to provide context for the conversation.

Default settings are the best choice when e-mailing someone whose technology tools are unknown to you. Some e-mail programs cannot "read" fancy fonts, unusual colors, or unique formatting.

Excessive punctuation -- such as multiple exclamation points -- should be avoided!!! The importance of your text should speak for itself.

Flaming -- sending an angry e-mail message -- always is unacceptable. Reread every e-mail you write before sending it, to make sure your message won't be read as "flaming."

Grammar counts. Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation in your e-mails. Always proofread and spell-check.

Humor, sarcasm, or irony easily can be misinterpreted in an e-mail, where tone of voice is lost. If you must use humor, consider including a smilie or emoticon to clarify your meaning.

Include a subject line in all e-mails. Choose a subject that will be meaningful -- and memorable -- to both you and the recipient(s).

Judgment is essential when forwarding e-mails. Be absolutely sure that the people you're e-mailing appreciate the same kind of humor you do, and remember, there can be too much of a good thing. Only send the very best!

Keep the body of your e-mails short and to the point.

Limit each line of an e-mail to fewer than 75 characters. Not all e-mail programs recipient(s) might receive lines that run on interminably.

Mind your manners. Make requests politely. Say "please" and "thank you" when necessary. Just because you can't see the person you're talking to, doesn't mean the rules of etiquette can be ignored.

Never send anything by e-mail that you would not want made public. No e-mail is completely private and, even if you "delete" a message, a computer expert probably can retrieve it.

Opening an unexpected attachment can be dangerous. Many experienced e-mailers simply won't take the risk. When sending an attachment, always include a personal message in the body of the e-mail, so the recipient will know that it's safe to open.

Publicizing someone else's e-mail address without their permission is an invasion of their privacy. When forwarding an e-mail to more than one recipient, address the e-mail to yourself and Bcc: (Blind Carbon Copy) everyone else. The addresses entered as BCC: Won't appear on the delivered e-mails.

Quick! Get to the point! When composing an e-mail, use the triangle form of writing. Place the most important information in the first paragraph and add details in ensuing paragraphs.

Replying to spam -- even to unsubscribe -- confirms to the spammer that your e-mail address is active, and results in even more spam.

Struggling with a salutation? If you don't know the full name or gender of the person you're e-mailing, use what you do know: "Dear Sal U. Tation," for example.

Time matters. Reply to e-mails within 24 hours if at all possible. Do not, however, respond at all to e-mails from people you don't know.


Very large files or attachments can crash recipients' e-mail programs -- or worse, their servers. Send a URL instead -- or ask the recipient's permission to send the file.

Warnings about murderers in malls, recalled medications, computer viruses, or similar terrifying tales invariably are false. If you feel that you must forward one, check it out first at sites such as Urban Legends.

eXtraneous information, characters, e-mail addresses, subject lines, and repetitious text waste time by forcing recipients to scroll through many lines of e-mails to find the meat of the mail. When forwarding an e-mail, delete all unnecessary text and graphics.

Your tone in an e-mail should reflect who the recipient is, not the communication medium you're using. Many users see e-mail as an informal method of communication; it is not. While an informal tone is appropriate for a friend, a more formal tone should be used to communicate with your scout leader or a college admissions officer. An extremely formal tone is appropriate for someone you hope not to hear from again!

Zip your lip! E-mail is personal correspondence. You should never -- without permission from the sender -- quote publicly from, or forward to a public forum, a private e-mail sent to you.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Updated 08/11/2009