Email etiquette I’ve learnt as a graduate student.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve experimented with email reply etiquette and I’ve realized the following:
1. The best time to reply to an email is – as soon as I can.
2. There are some professors who I’ll send an email to and receive a reply in less than 24 hours. The best are those who reply within 3-4 hours and I know a couple who get back in about an hour. I find that usually an issue with such professors gets resolved faster or delegated. Either way, the topic is closed in under 24 hours. Not only do I have more respect for professors who keep up this etiquette, this is something I aspire to.
3. On the other hand, I’ve had professors who reply back after a week. Once after a month. I wonder to myself if they still think of email as regular mail. This is how I used to treat email. Not anymore.
4. About a year ago, I got an iPhone. I realized how much that changed my life. Earlier, the default unread email count in my inbox would by a three digit number. Now, the default is zero. I have tags, labels, folders and smart folders. Emails get archived, tagged, starred, deleted or marked spam as soon as they enter my email client.
5. Treat email as email. Not as personal handwritten notes. Earlier, I was unnecessarily polite, courteous and excessively apologetic. Now I’m prompt, brief and to the point.
6. Use bullet points. For any email longer than a couple of hundred words, I use bullet points.
7. I write short emails (albeit the personal ones). I respect the recipient’s time and don’t expect him/her to have the attention or the patience to read my long-winded story.
8. I have a spelling and grammar checking tool. It’s ON by default. I get turned off my misspelled words. So, I avoid sending them.
9. I re-read all emails before sending. If my emails are brief and to the point, this doesn’t take long. If I find myself being lethargic in reading my draft before sending, that’s hint enough for me to re-write it.
10. Always send a short email now then a long detailed one later.
11. If I need something from someone, I email them. If it’s not in their inbox, then I don’t expect them to do it. And vice versa.
12. A gentle email reminder is not a bad thing. I’ve found that in more cases than one, that a gentle reminder is more welcome than not sending one at all. People forget. And I’ve yet to meet someone who has accused me of sending too many emails.
13. Mass forwarding emails are extinct. But once in a while, I do get one of those forwarded emails sent to the entire address book. Needless to say, they have earned their place in my Junk folder.
14. When copy pasting and send similarly worded emails to different people, make sure to copy and paste in a text editor first. Gmail and other email clients change the font color of copy pasted emails, so it becomes obvious. The last thing you want to impress on the receiver is that they were at the end of a mass copy paste session. This usually applies to undergraduates.
15. Lastly, I use email as a networking tool. After I meet someone and get their contact details, I usually follow-up with an email. This usually helps when I need to contact the other person after months, as I can reply back on this initial email. This eliminates the need to reintroduce. This trick is very helpful with busy people. Which is everybody.
Share your lessons in the comments below !