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Convey Message Through E-mail Etiquette

by Alf Nucifora

I've noticed recently that my email count has reached approximately 50 messages a day and growing. Incidentally, the national average is 31 per day. Some are spam that get automatically deleted without a second glance. But, what I've also noticed is that even the most serious and important emails often exhibit the writing skill of a grade school student. It's time for a refresher course on the subject of email etiquette and style. Incidentally, I was unable to locate an expert on the subject, so the musings below reflect my own, personal dictates which are based on courtesy and common sense.

As in snail mail, the accepted rules relating to grammar and spelling still prevail. The English language, in its written form, works best when practiced with discipline. If it's good enough for the New York Times, it's good enough for the rest of us. And, there is no reason why we should lessen the standards simply because the sentence is electronic. With grammatical aids and spelling tools available on the majority of email systems, there is no excuse for anything less than correctness.

The Salutation:
You may consider it a memo, I consider it a personal communication. Therefore, a "Dear Alf" or a "Dear Mr. Nucifora" is in order, if not required practice.

The "Subject" Box:
If you want your message to be read immediately, as I skim through the daily intake, highlight its importance with a subject headline that piques the curiosity. Beware, however, of using all uppercase... it screams sales pitch or unwanted spam.

The Message:
Keep it brief. Two or three short paragraphs, tops. Mimic journalism... provide the who, what, when, where and why (unless the topic is of a personal vs. a business nature). Make it easy for me to read and digest. When I'm clearing my email at 1:00 a.m., the last thing I need are the repetitive ramblings of an inconsiderate correspondent.

Unless you're heavy into business-to-business communications and send business files through a T-1 line, don't include attachments unless they're essential to the communication. They take time to download and don't always translate correctly system-to-system. Large graphic files are the worst. If you're unsure of the hardware and software specs at the receiver's end, inquire first before you send. Beware. If you include more than one file in the attachment the system compresses the data (Zip, MIME). The recipient must then decompress in order to get the information (unzip), a major inconvenience to some.

The Little Things:
Always include a phone number and a web site after your name at the bottom of your note. Pay attention to format, e.g. use of italics, paragraph spacing, etc.... anything that makes for an easier read.

Limit the Inquiry
Don't send open-ended inquiries that demand a book-length response, e.g. "Advise me re: the meaning of life;" "Tell me everything I need to know about marketing my roofing company." Be considerate of the other party's time. And you probably won't get a response any way.

Think Before You Click Send
Email can be the scourge of those with inflammatory tempers. Resist the urge to blast someone with an immediate email response. Once you click it's often too late. Sleep on it first.

To some, this preoccupation with style and rules may seem to be much ado about nothing. I choose to think that the email message represents the packaging of your company, your brand, yourself and the way you think. It is, after all, your calling card. Why not present the best picture?

And now for something completely different... e-mercantile made easy.

From the authoritative online newsletter, Iconocast, comes some interesting information for those who want to be e-merchants. "Portals and banks are capitalizing on the needs of emerging e-merchants with free or low-cost online store building tools and credit card transaction processing services," notes Iconocast.

Some portals, like Freemerchant.com and BigStep, will set up an online store for the budding e-merchant and host it for free. Others, like iMall partner Wells Fargo, charge up to $225 per month with bank application and set-up fees running as high as $250, plus credit card transaction fees of $15 per month and more, as well as bank authorization and transaction fees levied on top.

Yahoo! Store and iMall will catalog their merchant customer's product lines and inventory in large, searchable databases, as a service to shoppers, Yahoo! Store and Excite's Express Order, now prescreen all participating merchants for customer service standards, prompt notifications and guarantee of product delivery.

On the credit card transaction clearing side, First Data Corporation is the leader, having partnered with iMall, Microsoft, IBM, Yahoo! and Verio among others. Card Service International, a First Data partner, has now emerged as a powerhouse, e-merchant service company with approximately 160,000 merchants in its line-up according to Iconocast.

It's all good news for small business. Now, even the smallest retailer can become an overnight e-merchant with access to the same level of sophisticated services as the marketing behemoths.

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