Email Etiquette for Technical Communication

The purpose of this web page is to provide guidance for those using email for technical communication purposes.

Guidelines

Email can be convenient to use for communicating because email is fast, cheap, easy to use and is digital so it can be easily used in other documents.  Consider these guidelines when writing email.

Use appropriate formality, depending on the formality of the organization or people you are communicating with.  Observe how formal others are in the organization.  In general, if you are not sure, it is best to be too formal and then let someone tell you to be less formal.  Take care.  Informality is NOT the same as being inarticulate.  Even if you are informal, your message needs to be clear and without spelling errors.

Email is permanent and is not private. Even if you delete your email, it may have been archived before you deleted it.  There are companies that specialize in finding deleted email on computers. In court cases, email is treated like other forms of written communications.  The system administrator usually has access to all email.   There are computer hackers that can intercept email or find email on your computer.   The receiver may  forward your email to people you did not anticipate reading your email.  Consider writing email that you would not mind if the information showed up on the front page of the newspaper.

Keep messages brief.

Use a professional user ID As a student at HSU you are provided a User ID with the address userid [at] humboldt [dot] edu. Many students also have an email account on hotmail or yahoo or aol. Your email is more likely to be read on campus and off campus by professionals if it shows the humboldt.edu address. Consider the two email addresses below. Which of the two is more likely to be identified as spam and which seems to be a university student?

sdf403 [at] humboldt [dot] edu

hugsNkisses [at] yahoo [dot] com

Another advantage for using your HSU ID is that you can use it on resumes. Which of the two addresses would you put on your resume? There are ways to have your HSU email always forwarded to whatever account you would like to use. Be sure to ask your instructor

Use the subject line to tell people what the message is about.   People use the subject line to decide if your message is urgent.

Sign your email. Many students fail to put their names at the end of an email.  Some email addresses are cryptic and it can be difficult to determine the sender without a signature.  Consider adding an automatic footer at the end of all emails that contains your name and contact information.  Most email packages can do this action for you automatically.

Use simple text. Avoid using ALL CAPITALS OR ELSE IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING.  Also avoid using italics or bold, as some email packages do not read this information.

Do not use email when feeling angry. Studies say that more than 70% of our communication is nonverbal.  If you have something emotional to say, you will convey it better in person, rather than via email.  Flaming is the practice of writing email that has an angry or overly critical tone.  Flaming is considered to be inappropriate.  People are often denied access to discussion boards and listserves if they flame others.  If you think someone has said or done something inappropriate, find a professional tone to convey that perspective and when possible, tell the person how you feel face to face.  Do not flame.

Do not send chain letters.

Do not send jokes to professional colleagues. Students should not use email class lists to send jokes to other students and faculty.

Avoid sending file attachments unless they are requested from the receiver. Many instructors will not accept your file attachment unless you have a previous arrangement to exchange file attachments.

When sending email to a long list of addresses, use BCC (blind carbon copy) to hide the list of emails to recipients.

References

The information in this web page is based on the following source:

  • Markel, Michael (1998) Technical Communication, Situations and Strategies, 5th addition, St. Martins Press, New York

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