Most corporate guidelines for using e-mail tend to offer the same obvious advice: no expletives, no personal notes, no electronic chain letters. Here are 10 rules that won't appear in the company manual.
- Do not cc everyone in the firm when sending e-mail. It only annoys people by filling up their in-boxes with messages that don't concern them. Besides, it looks as if you're trying to cover your ass.
- When responding to a message, don't just click on the "Reply" button. Some e-mail systems copy everyone on the recipient list automatically. Check your settings.
- Skip the "thank you" notes. Unless the person has done you a monumental favor, another message just perpetuates the endless cycle of e-mail.
- Omit the original text when replying; it adds needlessly to the message's length. If the sender can't remember the original message, it couldn't have been all that important.
- Proofread! You don't have to write like E. B. White, but use the spell-checker, and make sure you use initial capitals and proper punctuation. Sub-rule: don't write in all caps. It reads as if you're shouting.
- When composing e-mail, assume it's going to get to your boss. It happens — I know.
- If you get a message that's personal or in any way controversial, don't forward it without asking the sender's permission.
- Don't write angry. Write the whole heated message offline and let it sit for a while. Then go back and edit. Cooler heads do prevail.
- If you want to send an attached file, check first to see that the person is set up to receive it: "I have the whole report in a Word Perfect document, Mark. Do you want a copy?"
- To stay out of trouble, adopt Virginia Shea's rule. She's the online Miss Manners, and author of "Netiquette" (Albion Books, 1994). Her prime directive: never send a message you wouldn't want to receive yourself.
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.