Email etiquette for beginners

We all send and receive a lot of emails every day – whether for work or for pleasure. That’s just the way things have been going, and email is a very convenient way to communicate with people without ever having to meet them IRL. It can also be a useful way of ‘reaching out’ to people to establish a professional bond with them in the hope that some day, after a couple of emails, you will be able to gain their respect and perhaps meet them IRL – or talk to them on the phone. (IDK, whatever works.)

When I was doing a bit of (pre-pandemic) reporting, I used to email a lot of people. I’d send off a flurry and hope some of them would land and sometimes they did and other times they didn’t. Emails are very easy to ignore, which is a major advantage for the recipient. If you’ve received an email that annoys you, chances are you’re going to leave it in your inbox to rot along with 10,000 others. If you send a lot of emails you need to bear this in mind.

Let’s look at some common email faux pas together. I don’t know a lot, but I do have reasonable experience in matters email etiquette…

Opening DON’TS –> DOs

Hi yoUir nÃme spelt rong,

This is not about spelling and grammar, it’s about having the cop on to spend a few seconds looking at the name of the person whom you intend to email. If you don’t get their name right what hope is there for your future dealings with this person? My name is spelled incorrectly all the time in emails by people who should know better. It doesn’t matter if it’s a difficult name with more poorly placed consonants than your average German word, get it right! I’m always very impressed when people do get my name right in emails so it really does make a good impression. Or perhaps I’m a raging narcissist.

Dear Sir & Howya horse!

It’s tough to know whether to err on the side of formality or informality when emailing some people, but I find a simple ‘Hi First Name Spelled Correctly,’ to do the trick. It’s respectful, democratic, and not overly fussy. Also, if you’re sending a formal email to a woman editor and you want to say Dear so-and-so, don’t call her ‘Sir’ because she probably won’t be impressed. Don’t call her horse either.

Middle Tips

Spit it out!

This is self-explanatory, but in case it isn’t I mean don’t take all day to say something very simple. Emails ain’t the place for flowery phraseology; they should be clear and concise. Ernest Hemingway, a man famed for his exact prose style said “Know how complicated it is and then state it simply,” which is good advice. Whenever I have to write a difficult email I always think of Ernest Hemingway and I ask myself how would Hemingway phrase this. No, seriously, I do. If I’m very stuck I sometimes recite his famous six-word short story for inspiration… (“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”) If I’m very, very stuck I get up and leave the email unsent in drafts, because as Hemingway also said: “The first draft of anything is shit.” You don’t want to be sending shit emails… I get back to it later.

Be polite. Use short sentences.

By all accounts, Hemingway wasn’t a man for the politeness, but he was great at the short sentences. Don’t let your modifiers dangle or your clauses ramble because your email will confuse the hell out of your reader, who may have a very full inbox to wade through. Appeal to their better nature by using yours, and by being polite. Chances are they will be more well disposed towards answering you if you’re sound to them.

Closing DON’Ts –> DOs

Yours faithfully

Woah, chillax there will ya horse? There’s no need to be so cold, so clinical, so posh in signing off. Who do you think you’re writing to? The Queen. Not likely if you’re reading this, mate. Say ‘Yours Sincerely’ if you really want to be serious but don’t go overboard.

Best

I’m always flummoxed by this one. What do people mean when they sign off like this? They might as well just go directly to signing their name at the end of their spiel. It’s passive-aggressive. I know that people who only know me through email don’t particularly care about my hopes and dreams and deepest feelings, but something a little more personal wouldn’t kill them would it? Do I not deserve ‘All the best’? See also ‘Regards’ v ‘Kind regards’

B

B is for Bláthnaid, in this instance. But it could also be for ‘bellend’ because a lot of people just put the first letter of their name when signing off so you have to look at their professional auto-signature and get intimidated. Just write your full name even if you do have one of those fancy signatures. You can turn off the signature after the first correspondence and just take the 2 seconds it takes to type your full name. What makes me laugh is this stunt is usually used by people with really short names like Bo.

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