To communicate with optimum effectiveness, you can learn skills that help you get your point across with clarity and leave others with a positive impression of your competence and professionalism. This is true for presentations and lectures, during which you need to keep your audience engaged and focused. Of course it’s also true of communications that take place over e-mail, which take place without the benefit of eye contact, vocal inflection, and other cues that alert others to the full meaning of your message.

Unfortunately, these positive communication strategies aren’t always taught in school, so those who enter the workforce without this knowledge may unwittingly engage in behaviors that are deemed rude, unprofessional, or annoying. And yet, professional e-mail practices don’t only apply in the working world; knowing how, when, and why to craft and send an e-mail can improve students’ ability to communicate with you, as well as with their fellow students.

In HOW 13: A Handbook for Office Professionals, Thirteenth Edition, authors James L. Clark and Lyn R. Clark offer students guidelines for e-mail use that will come in handy today, as well as in their future careers. Encourage your students to consider these points before they click “Send”:

Netiquette (net etiquette) is a set of behaviors that should be adhered to when using the Internet. Excluding conduct prohibited by federal laws, the Internet community itself has devised etiquette standards for Internet use. Those applying to e-mail follow:

(1) Use e-mail to accomplish a specific purpose. Do not send e-mail messages that are needless or unnecessary. At the same time, send courtesy copies only to people who will benefit from or who need the information contained in your e-mail message.

(2) Make your reply as succinct as possible when replying to e-mail messages online. If courtesy copies were routed to others, evaluate whether these individuals need your response before sending your reply. Avoid cluttering the network and others’ mailboxes with unnecessary replies.

(3) Be courteous in your e-mail messages. Sending rude messages is known as “flaming” and is frowned upon by the Internet community.

(4) Avoid using a series of all capital letters in the body of your message. Besides hindering readability, all capital letters are considered the e-mail equivalent of shouting and may be construed as rude.

(5) Keep your e-mail messages short, generally no more than one or two screenfuls of data. If you send a long message, tell the recipient at the beginning so that he or she has the option to download it for later reading.

(6) Do not send chain letters over the Internet. (p. 352) 

Reference: Clark, James L. and Clark, Lyn R. 2014. HOW 13: A Handbook for Office Professionals, 13th edMason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

Do you provide your students with guidelines for e-mail communications? What other strategies do you use for teaching courtesy and other professional “soft skills” in your courses? Share your ideas below.