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Sree's Thoughts on E-mail Etiquette
Sunday, Aug. 19, 2001

My friends and colleagues call it "Sree-mail."

That's the 100-ish messages I send out daily and the 20 e-mail lists I run. I also receive more than 350 messages a day. Personal, professional, spam, come-ons -- I get them all.

Here is a list of random tips I have gathered about dealing with e-mail. Some are obvious, others are not. All should improve your e-mail usage.

WATCH WHAT YOU TYPE
Too many people have learned the hard way that e-mail is not private. Never put anything in an e-mail message you wouldn't want read by one or more of the following people in your life: your boss, your mom, your spouse or your worst critic. If you visualize each of these people reading your note before you hit send, you will save yourself from writing things that will get you in trouble.

KEEP IT SHORT
People don't like reading on computers, and don't have enough time to read all your thoughts. Write snappy, digestible prose and you will be read.

MAKE BETTER USE OF SUBJECT LINES
Vague, imprecise subject lines are a waste of a recipient's time. Be detailed, if possible. And change the subject line if your note's subject matter has changed.

USE <eom> FOR END OF MESSAGE
If you are just communicating one quick thought, try using just the subject line. Then put <eom> at the end of the subject line. This hasn't caught on yet, of course, so it's always helpful to write "eom = end of message" in the first line of the body text, thus avoiding any confusion.

ACKNOWLEDGE MESSAGES, IF POSSIBLE
Even a short, one-line reply -- "I got it, thanks. Looking into it." -- is a nice professional courtesy.

DON'T FORWARD CHAIN LETTERS
Ditto for virus alerts, pleas for helping sick little kids or free stock from Microsoft. There are far too many e-mail messages going around without your adding to the confusion.

DON'T SEND ATTACHMENTS
And don't open them unless absolutely necessary. If someone sends me an attachment I don't want, I politely write back, asking it be sent as a plain-text e-mail message.

SIGN YOURSELF
Be sure to create a signature file for yourself . Or at least spell out your name at the bottom of the message, if it isn't obvious from the e-mail address. It's irritating to get a note from, say ss221@aol.com if you don't know who it is.

DELETED E-MAIL IS NOT GONE
Almost all messages that you delete from your inbox live on for an indefinite period on your hard disk, your company server or your ISP's computers. Assume they are still around and can be retrieved.

USE FOLDERS
Don't keep all your mail in your main inbox folder. Almost all programs allow you to sort your mail into personalized folders for easy retrieval and searching.

USE VACATION MESSAGES
Set up your program's auto-reply or vacation function when you are away from your e-mail for more than a day.

UNSUBSCRIBE FROM MAILING LISTS
When you go away, take yourself off mailing lists so you are not flooded with messages when you get back.

HIT DELETE
Instead of getting worked up about a flood of messages, use the delete button. And if you find yourself overwhelmed with messages that are more than a month old, try deleting a whole bunch. If it was really important, the senders will ping you again. I once read a tip from Web pioneer Guy Kawasaki, who suggested deleting 300 messages at a time if your box is full of old, unread messages. I didn't think it was a good idea then, but do now.

ADJUSTS TO THE OTHER PERSON'S SCHEDULE
People seem to think that others have the same e-mail habits. Just because you check your e-mail obsessively does not mean others do. You have to adjust to the others person's habits. Unlike voicemail, which has accepted conventions, we are evolving the ones for e-mail. Be patient.

PAPER STILL COUNTS
Try sending, on occasion, a handwritten card (gasp!) on nice stationery. See the impact it has.

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