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E-mail Guidelines

Introduction

Professional e-mail, like any other professional written communication, is correct, concise, precise, and respectful of the reader’s time. Professional e-mail need not be formal in tone, but casual messages must never descend into sloppiness. Students, in particular, must think carefully when composing messages to teachers and to other students.

Correctness

Every professional e-mail message should be spelt correctly and employ correct grammar. The former can be accomplished, in part, through the use of automatic spell-checking. Please be warned, however, that your e-mail client or web-based service may use a U.S. English dictionary, rather than a Canadian English dictionary. You’ll need to be on guard against the spell checker’s attempts to change your correct Canadian spellings, and a good defence (note the Canadian spelling!) is to add these properly spelt words to your personal dictionary.

Grammar can be checked in the usual ways: reading the text out loud, asking someone else to proof the text, using your computer’s text-to-speech facility (if one exists) to read the text to you. For especially important messages, you might consider composing the text in another application, such as Word, and employing the grammar checker of that application.

Concision

To respect the time of your readers, when posting e-mail and conference messages, follow these simple steps:

  1. Enable discrimination Choose a subject line that allows readers to know, without opening your message, whether its contents are worth their attention. The best subject lines allow readers to delete unread messages without fear of missing something relevant. Consider which of the following you could fearlessly delete:
    • Club meeting postponed until 30 September 2016
    • Staff meeting
    • List of grade-9 students to be excused from classes on September 15
    • Student list
    • Agenda for SLC meetings of September 2nd & 3rd
    • September 2nd and 3rd
    • Missing: brown knapsack taken from Express Lab C13
    • Help needed
    • Volunteer opportunity: after-school recreational league
    • Recreational sports
    • Reply required: 4U7 pre-exam special class
    • Special class
  2. Make each message count Politeness is always important and desirable, but the messages most wasteful of time in a hectic school year are those which say something like “good idea,” or “thanks.” If you’re requesting information or an action from a reader, or you’re providing your readers with information or notifying them of some task you’ve performed, consider ending your message with “thanks, in advance, for your reply,” or “no response necessary.” If in doubt, consider this: Was the information or action so important that you would interrupt your reader with a telephone call just to say “thanks”? If yes, then send such a message; if no, then consider the suggestion above.

Precision

When responding to an e-mail message or conference, quote material sufficient to remind your readers of the thread of the conversation, but be ruthless in editing the quoted material to the minimum required.

When replying to a message in an e-mail application (and some web-based services), highlight the original material you’d like to quote before selecting Reply. The application will style the selected text as a quotation in the body of your message, and then you can edit judiciously.

Take particular care not to include the original attachments in your reply to messages, unless those attachments are crucial to the reply.

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[This page last updated 2015-11-28 at 16h30 Toronto local time.]