The Hillary Clinton email scandal has proved that the way we behave online is inseparable from the way we are seen professionally. Most email users struggle with distinguishing a professional tone of voice from a casual one. Writing professional emails to an employer or professor can be daunting and stressful because we are ultimately responsible for choosing the right words.
“The thing that people don’t stop and think about with email is that it’s a record that doesn’t go away … You never know where that email is going to go,” University of Dallas director of Human Resources Janis Townsend said. “If I respond back very casually to someone at an outside organization or to a professor, and that email gets forwarded, the person who reads through that chain, may read it and think: who do they think they are responding [to] that way?”
Clearly, what we intend is not always communicated well and, according to Townsend, others “may read it and take offense or take issue with the way something is said. So, you have to remember with an email, that it’s going to live on after you send it.”
Greetings and closing statements often indicate the casual or professional nature of an email.
If a professional signs an email with their first name, should you then address them with the name they use in your reply?
“You want to err on the side of professionalism,” answered Townsend, suggesting one should always maintain a formal tone unless corrected.
Even when a conversation is going quickly back and forth, it is still prudent to use a greeting. “Sometimes we are in the rush of things and there is this email chain going on and it’s a hassle,” Townsend said, advocating for the dedication of five extra seconds to type greetings in emails.
Ending an email can sometimes be a torturous process, but choosing the right closing words will have an impact on the reader. Townsend recommends “regards,” “with great appreciation” and “all the best” as excellent ways to politely send your flawless email with a bit of warmth.
When speaking with a potential employer, University of Dallas Human Resources manager Evelyn Burch advised brevity and avoiding questions already answered in the job description.
Brevity is key to crafting an effective email,” according to the article “How to Write an Effective Email,” in Forbes magazine.
“Get to the point immediately. Keep your notes as short as possible. Avoid extended blocks of text by breaking up your writing into short paragraphs or bullets. And keep in mind what we all already know: Everyone is busy and gets too much e-mail,” read the article.
The ambiguity of email decorum is the result of a disconnect between two generations, according to sophomore Riyanna Rutledge.
“People aren’t really teaching the younger generation what etiquette is online. In email, a lot of times students use text speak,” Rutledge said.
Younger people are generally considered more technically savvy than their seniors, but ought to learn Internet decorum from their elders.
“I think [etiquette] comes more from the older generation,” Rutledge said. “They have a certain expectation of what’s respectful and what’s courteous and what etiquette is.”
The impatience that the speed of Internet communication inspires in us affects the way we write.
“We use email for expediency, we want to use it to get answers now, we want our professor to respond to our email now… So why take the time to write out a beautifully crafted letter, when we could say it in eight letters or less?” Rutledge said.
We need to fight the flippant use of words, which detracts from their meanings. Formal conversation must reclaim email as territory for professional syntax and polite conversation. Texting legitimizes bad spelling, emojis and the general deconstruction of the English language, but etiquette still exists in email, and we are responsible for using it.