By Edwin J Peterson
E-mail saves time.
E-mail wastes time.
E-mail increases productivity.
E-mail decreases productivity.
All of the foregoing is correct. E-mail unquestionably increases productivity and saves time. Even so, poor e-mail habits waste a lot of time and also decrease productivity.
There are thousands of articles about e-mail etiquette. But judging from the quality and quantity of e-mails that I receive, many e-mail users pay little or no attention to some basic e-mail truths. So indulge me as I add to the literature on good e-mail practice.
1. Expect your e-mail to be published to the world. If you really want confidentiality, don’t use e-mail. Don’t send a confidential document in an e-mail unless you are absolutely certain that confidentiality is assured. In most cases, such certainty does not exist.
2. Always include a meaningful subject heading. Make your subject heading as specific as possible. Example: You have received an e-mail with a subject "Crocker/Jones contract." Your reply might be headed, "Suggested changes to Crocker/Jones contract," or "Crocker/Jones contract; reply to yours of ___."
3. Think before including in your reply a copy of the e-mail you’re replying to. Be selective in what you include from prior e-mails; include only enough to ensure context.
4. Use e-mails for scheduling meetings. This is much more efficient than telephone calls. (For most things, e-mail is more efficient than the telephone.)
5. Don’t necessarily reply to all recipients. For example, if Smith is responsible for scheduling a meeting of 10 people, when replying to Smith’s e-mail, it is generally not necessary to reply to the other nine recipients. You waste their time by including them.
6. Think twice before sending lengthy attachments by e-mail. Perhaps the mail is as efficient.
7. Think before hitting "send."
8. Write clearly. Re-read before sending.
9. Check carefully the list of persons that you’re replying to. Example: If you represent a defendant and wish to write only to the lawyers for other defendants, using addresses from a prior e-mail, be careful that you’re not including persons other than the intended recipients.
10. Never get angry; don’t berate.
11. Reply quickly. (This is as true of e-mail as it is for phone calls and correspondence.
"My lawyer doesn’t return my phone calls" is the number one complaint of clients.)
12. Copy only those persons who need to be copied.
13. Do not write in caps. Underline judiciously.
14. If you are sending an e-mail to multiple recipients, consider including multiple recipients in the "bcc" section of the e-mail.
15. Be brief.
16. Be concise.
17. Be polite.
18. Watch your manners.
19. If an e-mail upsets you, don’t respond immediately. Re-read it. (You may have misread it?) If you write a strong response, sit on it for a day before sending it.
20. Delete e-mails as soon as possible. File e-mails as soon as possible. (Filing e-mails in a folder normally is more efficient than printing a hard copy and putting it in a file.)
21. Read your e-mail before sending it. Check for spelling and grammar. Use spell check. Don’t trust spell check.
22. Make certain your recipient can download your attachments. Though less common today, some recipients can’t download WordPerfect or Word documents. If you’re uncertain, send the attachment in Word and WordPerfect. Name your attachment so that it is easy for the recipient to find it after it’s downloaded.
23. If you receive a questionable e-mail with an attachment, don’t open the attachment. Viruses exploit security flaws; in some cases the virus infects even if you know the sender. If uncertain, delete the message and contact the sender.
24. Normally, don’t include credit card numbers in an e-mail.
25. Consider including contact information, such as your full name, title and firm name, your telephone and fax numbers, your mailing address, your e-mail address and your cell phone number.
26. Say "please."
27. Say "thank you."
Thanks for listening.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edwin Peterson is the Distinguished Jurist in Residence at Willamette University School of Law and a former chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.
© 2005 Edwin Peterson