PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION – EMAIL ETIQUETTE
It’s easy to whip up an email to group members, staff, faculty, or employers without worrying too much about the details of the writing. But these communications can impact the impression you make on your personal and professional contacts, especially given the volume of emails that are exchanged in the working world. Here, we’ve outlined some suggestions on maintaining the quality of your communications and ultimately improving your professional reputation.
WHEN EMAIL SHOULD BE USED
Email is a great way to get in contact with someone, but it’s not always the best option. Below are some instances when we recommend it:
- You need to get ahold of someone who is not readily available in person or by phone
- You have a need that is not time-sensitive (i.e., you don’t need a response sooner than 24 hours)
- You need to distribute information to a large number of people
- You need a record of the communication (e.g., approval from an advisor, a written job offer)
If you have multiple questions that require more detailed answers, or want to discuss something that is personal or confidential, a phone call or face-to-face meeting is generally preferred.
CRAFT CONCISE MESSAGES
The average worker receives 90 messages per day — crafting messages that are clear yet concise will ensure yours actually get read and receive a response.
First, briefly state your purpose in writing the email and provide any necessary context. For example, cut and paste relevant text from a related exchange, or hyperlink a URL so the reader can quickly grasp what’s being asked.
Be sure to use paragraphs to separate your thoughts throughout the message. Doing so spaces the text out visually, making it easier to digest.
Finally, make sure to clearly state your desired outcome or question at the end. Do you need a response, and if so, by a specific date? Make a clear call to action.
USE SUBJECT LINES THOUGHTFULLY
Providing subject lines that accurately describe an email’s content will allow both sides to quickly recall the conversation over the course of the back-and-forth. Also be sure to keep the subject brief, as many people read emails on their phones and may only be able to see a fraction of the text.
A subject line “need help” doesn’t tell the recipient much information, whereas “Question about start date – Starbucks DS Internship” provides helpful context while not bogging the reader down with too much wordiness.
Forwarding messages? Don’t hesitate to change or edit the subject if you are passing it along to a friend, co-worker, staff, faculty, etc. They’ll appreciate the clarity you’ve provided.
CONSIDER CARBON COPY, BLIND CARBON COPY, AND REPLY ALL
Email is of course a great way of communicating the same information to multiple individuals. Exactly how you want to do that, though, will depend on the situation.
You can add multiple recipients (those in the “To” line) when you need responses from each of people or think a number of them might like to give input.
Carbon copying, or “cc’ing,” someone on your email is appropriate when you don’t necessarily need to hear back from them but would like to keep them in the loop. A cc can also help expedite a communication. For example, if you’ve been waiting for a document from an unresponsive recruiter, you might copy the hiring manger on your follow-up email. Use your best professional discretion when using this tactic.
Blind carbon copying, or “bcc’ing,” is useful when you don’t want everyone on the thread to see each other’s email addresses — whoever is bcc’d will be hidden from view. This can be helpful if you need to communicate a large amount of info to people — procedural information, policies, surveys, etc. — but aren’t necessarily trying to start a conversation. And as with a cc, a bcc can be used if you simply want to keep someone apprised of your actions but don’t need them to chime in. Be aware that anyone who is bcc’d can still “reply all” to the message, at which point it would be revealed to the others that you included them on the original message.
Speaking of which, “reply all” can be an often useful though sometimes risky tool. This article gives some good examples on when you should and shouldn’t use it.
USE THE 24-HOUR RULE WHEN YOU’RE UPSET
Sending an angry or emotional email is generally not advisable. You’ve like seen these, or perhaps have written on yourself (no judgment — many of us have!). While it might feel empowering at the time, that will fade, and you’ll be left with an unprofessional email you can’t take back (unless you act quickly and get very lucky).
Instead, if you are feeling frustrated, try composing an email but not sending it. Oftentimes the simple act of writing out your feelings will be sufficiently cathartic. And if after 24 hours you still feel the emotions conveyed in the email are resonating, you can then think about sending it.
It’s not that conveying displeasure in an email is off limits, just that we often develop more effective ways of communicating after allowing ourselves some time to step back.
REFRAIN FROM SENDING ONE-LINE REPLIES
Considering again the high volume of emails people send and receive, one-line messages can be a bit annoying. While “Thanks” and “Okay, great” confirm you’ve read someone’s email, they don’t move the conversation forward.
As a sender yourself, feel free to add “no action needed” or “no response necessary” to avoid this inbox clutter.
RE-READ YOUR EMAILS
While this one seems obvious, it’s worth noting. Most email providers have an automatic spell/grammar check, but you should also make a habit of re-reading your emails before sending. You’ll pick up on errors the software doesn’t — missing words, incorrect usages, etc. Even minor mistakes like these can confuse your reader and may give the impression that you lack attention to detail.
To develop this practice, one option you can consider is to defer delivery of your emails by two to five minutes. Doing so leaves room for correction and most emails you write won’t be adversely affected by such a minor delay.
ADDITIONAL TIPS & RESOURCES
- Professional Communication (with a focus on contacting employers) – Illinois Career Center
- Effective Email Communication – UNC’s Writing Center
- 8 Tips for Effective Email Communication – Nancy Friedman
- How to Revise and Email So That People Will Read It – Harvard Business Review (thanks to Professionalism in Informatics lecturer, Laura Schildkraut, for sharing this article!)
iSchool: More info and registration via iCareers
(Missed a workshop? You can review our recorded sessions online.)
- 4/30: Career Conversations: Job Search Burnout; 10:30 – 11:20am, MGH 224
- 5/2: Alternative Summer Plans; 12:30 – 1:20pm, MGH 258
- 5/7: Making the Most of Your Internship; 12:30 – 1:20pm, MGH 258
- 5/10: Deloitte Consulting Analytics Panel – Careers in Data and Cyber Security; 3:30 – 5:00pm, PCAR 394
UW Career & Internship Center
- 4/30: Interviewing Lab; 2:30 – 3:20pm, MGH 134
- 5/2: How to Make the Most of Your Summer; 3:30 – 4:00pm, MGH 134
- 5/3: Job Search Workshop (Online); 2:30 – 3:00pm, online
- 5/6: Cover Letter Workshop; 2:30 – 3:00pm, MGH 134
- 5/9: Career Launch; 3:30 – 4:20pm, MGH 134
- 5/7: HuskyTech x PwC: Consulting Through the Cloud; 6:30 – 8:30pm, HUB 334
- 5/9: Seattle Career Fair; 11:00am – 2:00pm, Seattle Center – Armory Lofts
- 5/10: Deloitte Consulting x UWCA: Blockchain; 12:30 – 1:30pm, DEM 104
- 5/14: PwC Cyber Security & Privacy Consulting Info & Networking Sessions; 6:00 – 7:30pm, DEM 102
POSITIONS FOR CONSIDERATION
- Software Engineering Intern, Comcast NBCUniversal; Handshake ID 2684258
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- Seasonal Data Analyst, Sound; iCareers ID 8865
- Collection Development Weeding Project Intern, LWTech – Library Learning; iCareers ID 8899
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- Software Engineer I, JACOBS; Handshake ID 2678432
- Associate Analyst (Entry Level Business Analyst), Infosys; Handshake ID 2684183
- Data Engineer, LeanTaas; Handshake ID 2682731
- Upper School Librarian, Lakeside School; iCareers ID 8871
- Librarian – Adult Services – University Place, Pierce County Library System; iCareers ID 8894