Recently I sent an important document to a lawyer as an e-mail attachment. It appeared in my ‘sent box’ and I didn’t receive any notification showing it had not been delivered. So I automatically presumed it had been received by the intended recipient. I was wrong. Days later I was surprised to discover that it had not been delivered. The reason was simple: I had not checked the size of the attached pdf. It was 20 Megabites and therefore over the size allowed by the law firm’s server. So the message, even stripped of the attachment, had not been delivered and the lawyer had received no notification. He was still waiting for the document!
So the lesson learnt is: don’t forget to check the size of attachments before sending an e-mail. This experience prompted me to re-visit my previous article, ‘E-mail etiquette and effectiveness’.
Here is the new updated list:
- Check the size of attachments before sending your e-mail.
- If a file is attached, make reference to that file in the body of the message, having checked that the file is the correct file and is the final saved version of that file. In some cases, people don’t notice that there is an attachment or they may be suspicious of attachments and not open them.
- Write a specific, descriptive subject line which captures the essence of the topic.
- Check that you are sending the message to the correct person at the correct address. For example, you may have two different Brenda’s that you often send e-mails to. Or a recipient may have two different addresses and prefer one for business e-mails etc.
- Don’t forward information that is confidential, personal or of a sensitive nature.
- Even if you are the originator, send sensitive or confidential information only after checking with recipients. (They may not wish to have this message sent by e-mail, may want the document password protected, or sent to their private addresses.)
- Include all relevant parties where their input or approval is needed. This also applies where they need to be kept informed. But don’t send e-mails to those who are not involved or whom you know would not be interested.
- Where appropriate copy your boss or immediate supervisor. But don’t send unnecessary messages. Our inboxes are too full and please don’t send matters unrelated to work.
- Protect the privacy of other people’s e-mail addresses. Never provide e-mail addresses to others without first gaining the approval of those whose contact details you are sharing.
- If sending a general e-mail to a group of people outside the company, send it to yourself, using the BCC section for all recipients. Where appropriate, in the body draw attention to the fact that multiple recipients have been sent this e-mail.
- When sending an e-mail to one person, it is not considered ethical to include a BCC to his boss, or to anyone else. Let the recipient know who has been copied by putting that person’s address in the CC section.
- In the body of your message stick to the ‘subject’. Cover only one topic making sure that different topics unrelated to the subject heading are not introduced. This makes the ‘trail’ clearer when others try to follow the evolving conversation (including responses).
- Always put your ‘signature at the end of the message. (A person may wish to phone you in response to the e-mail.) In addition, check that your e-mail address appears in the signature. Many people ‘copy and paste’ this information for their ‘Contacts’.
- Consider carefully whether you want logos and other images in the body of your e-mail or in the signature. These may be rejected by recipients’ servers.
- Be aware of your business and personal branding throughout the message.
- Consider lay-out carefully. Make the message easy to read.
- It shouldn’t need to be said, but unfortunately it does – don’t send anything that may be perceived as being disrespectful, offensive, spam or containing viruses.
- Be professional and avoid using SMS shorthand, slang or vulgar language.
- Take care in wording the message. The tone and context can easily be misread or misunderstood. How is the receiver likely to perceive or understand your intention?
- Where making sensitive requests, be polite and assertive rather than giving an aggressive impression.
- Don’t become abusive, show discrimination or infringe on private lives.
- Check grammar and spelling using the appropriate Spellcheck –e.g. English (South Africa). Punctuate correctly.
- Use capital letters only at the start of a sentence or for names, ‘proper nouns’ etc.
- Make your e-mail short and ‘to the point’. Don’t waffle. You don’t want to receive the response, ‘tl:dr’ (too long, didn’t read).
- Use the corporate standard type font (e.g. Arial), size (e.g. 12) and colour (e.g. black). Don’t use different fonts or colours unnecessarily.
- If your message needs a response, indicate by when you’d like to receive their answer. (Please reply by…)
- Don’t e-mail company documents to an outside source without the authority to do so (preferably in writing or covered in the company procedures).
- Don’t leave your e-mail ‘open’ on your computer (company privacy and to prevent others from deleting or forwarding messages from your computer.)
- Provide an ‘out of office’ auto reply message giving details of when you’ll be back, and offering the contact details of the relevant person to attend to urgent or important business matters in your absence.
- Where e-mails are addressed directly to you, respond within the time determined by company policy (e.g. same work day, within 24 hours etc.)
- Manage your in-coming and out-going e-mails, having folders for different topics (e.g. quotations). Delete whatever is unimportant or no longer relevant.
- Do not mark as urgent or set the ‘priority’ for your recipients. It is not polite to presume that your message is important for the person receiving the message.
- Where you are sending a bulk message, consider whether there is more chance of your recipients receiving the message as an attachment, or in the body of the e-mail.
- Statistics show that the day on which bulk e-mails are most likely to be read by recipients is a Tuesday. So where possible, send on that day. On Mondays people are starting a new week and don’t pay much attention to e-mails which they consider unnecessary. Towards the end of the week people are trying to complete their work before the weekend.
For more information on Communication Skills training, please contact Brenda on firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 82 4993311.
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