Mar 032011

When excessive amounts of email start increasing and attacking your time and productivity, something’s gotta give. In my IT management practice I gradually got to receiving hundreds of emails daily from users, staff, vendors and systems. Naturally, email filters, rules and searches had become my best friends, but something still had to suffer and guess what it was – salutations and signatures.  

I now deeply agree with what they used to teach me long time ago in college in a professional writing course – that an email message is an electronic memo because it already has the to, from, and subject part located above the message body and that moreover, memos by definition don’t need the opening greeting. In this case the signature is electronically built into the message, because you entered your password and the system says it’s coming from you. I believe nobody should be offended by receiving a “dry” message without greetings which is actually straight to the point and as such, most productive.  The only time when I used to include the customary greetings and “signature” (by typing or otherwise attaching my name and contact information) was when I was writing to external correspondents who didn’t know me, to facilitate the contact, and also because some of them may not understand this logic.

For a while I actually thought of including a short explanation about the lack of the opening and the closing greetings as my electronic signature, but I don’t appreciate those either.  I assume that most busy people prefer getting straight to the point and don’t like any clutter such as repetitive auto attachments, so I always respected their inbox space as I wish they did mine.

So I’d say if we need email etiquette, in my book it looks like this:

1. Most of all, use a proper subject line.  I have often wasted my time trying to retrieve some important information hidden behind a senseless subject line or no subject line at all (my otherwise great business partner and friend now gets to recognize himself here). If you want a quick conversation, pick up the phone or jump on the IM of choice. Email is a written record, so write it as if it were to be published someday, because it might. Be polite, serious and precise.

2. Try to talk about one thing, the thing that you put in the subject line above. If you have two important things to discuss and they’re not related, it’s better to send separate messages about each one with appropriate subject line (much easier to find for people with tons of email). The higher up the ladder your correspondent, the more important it is to follow these first two items.

3. Get to the point right away, be short and concise.

4. Avoid writing anything offensive at all cost.

(The following three are a balancing act and depend on your corporate culture, but I prefer the internal office email done this way):

5. No opening greetings

6. No closing salutations

7. No need to type your name under your message. You may want to discuss this and the previous two points in a meeting so people don’t think you’re rude.

8. Jokes, goofy videos and vacation photos belong to your personal email (gmail, yahoo, hotmail, facebook and others are free). Exchange personal addresses with your buddies and you can email each other with tons of fun stuff without much risk of getting fired (unless you go so overboard that someone reports you for sexual harassment). Whenever I’d get a joke from any of my coworkers and staff, I’d send them my personal email address and ask them to send stuff like that there from their personal email, thus keeping the company system and staff records clean.

To summarize, the most important rules of email etiquette are the same rules that apply to business writing. Let me put them in an executive summary for you:

Short and concise.

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