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Old-school manners in a e-mail world

Posted: September 25, 2008 8:21 p.m.
Updated: November 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Can you remember a time when there was not such a thing as e-mail? Now that it's here, we cannot pick up an old edition of a manners book to find out about e-mail etiquette. Is there a set of rules to keep us mannerly with this techy form of communication?

Whether it's back-to-school time, vacation time, holidays, workdays or simple daily life days, e-mail is used continuously without any boundary of hours or age limitations. There are, however, some considerate boundaries and limitations in the way we use e-mail.

What you write in an e-mail could stay alive for a very long time. Keep in mind that e-mail does not disappear just because you hit the delete button. It can be retrieved and traced. Only write words that you would not mind anyone seeing. Pretend that what you are writing is being posted on a public bulletin board.

Writing does not provide us with a voice, a tone, or an emotion. Too often our wording can be misunderstood. If you are dealing with any sensitive issues, it's best to pick up the phone and call the person directly, or make time to visit with them face to face. Ask yourself if you are using e-mail to avoid confronting someone straight on.

If the answer is "yes," be careful about how you handle the communication with this relationship, and do not risk creating a negative outcome over the computer screen.

Using all caps, especially if they are bolded, comes across as loud or screaming. On the other hand, using a script or an italicized font, reads as calm and gentle. Using a combination of upper and lower case letters is much easier for the eye to read, and that becomes a polite way to present your messages to other readers.

When sending an e-mail to more than one person at a time, be mindful of people's privacy. If you want everyone to know who else receives that message, then you may place everyone in the "copy" box or the "send to" box. If this e-mail requires some anonymity - such as not publicizing other people's e-mail addresses - then send as a "blind copy." This is a very considerate and important manner.

If you would like a direct reply to a question, place only one question or issue in the message. It will be easier for the reader to know that you are wanting that answer. If you have multiple questions or topics in one e-mail, it is likely that you will not get all of those issues addressed. Being brief and to the point is always good. If you have a lot to say, then use paragraphs often, create white space on the page by skipping a line between paragraphs, and use correct punctuation so that everything written is clear to read and understand.

Reply to an e-mail in a timely manner. For business, 24 hours is considered acceptable; 24 to 48 hours is fine for social mail. If the response is going to take a while, and you don't have the time to write soon, send them a very quick e-mail explaining the situation, and tell them when they can expect to hear back from you with the complete answer. That will let them know you've received their message, and it helps you to relax and fit this task into your schedule in a timely way.

If you are going to be away from your computer for a period of time, you can post an automatic message that notes that you are away - with a date of return. This helps people understand any delays in responding - and puts you at ease too.

Forwarding someone's e-mail to another person or group also takes consideration. If it's something funny, fun, sentimental or inspiring, that is fine. If it is serious or business related, the sender needs to know the appropriateness of sending this on as a forward. If in doubt, always check back with the original sender for their input or permission.

Spelling is also to be watched. Fortunately there is always a spell-check feature that is there for your help - so click it to be sure you have no misspellings.
Remember to note what is written in the subject line - when you are receiving and sending. When you return an e-mail, sometimes leaving the subject line as it is works, but after 2 or 3 back-and -forth messages, it likely has lost it's meaning, so change it as much as you can to suit the topic or answer at hand. If something does not need a reply, you can write "NRN" (no reply needed). "FYI" means for your information. Always put something in the subject line. It's helpful and very thoughtful.

When you begin your message, always use a nice salutation, typically Dear Bob, or Hi Sally, or something clever that the two of you relate to. Avoid using anything unkind or crude. Act as though you can see this person face to ace - and don't think that cyber-mail gives you anonymity and the opportunity to send something negative or rude.

The guidelines for e-mail etiquette are not any different than day-to-day good manners. If you decide how to act on your computer based on respect, consideration and kindness, your actions will always be good ones.

Louise Elerding, is a manners, etiquette, and personal appearance coach and the author of "You've Got Manners!" a series of children's books on manners. For information on manners classes in the Santa Clarita Valley, and to submit questions for the "Ask Louise' column, call 1-800-326-8953 or e-mail


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