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The definitive guide to email etiquette

This week’s blog is brought to you by the London office. I sincerely hope that makes me sound like a total wanker. I’ve tried very hard to come across as one. I’ve been practising in front of the mirror and everything. Which probably sounds quite rude. Which was the intention.

Penelope WhitsonThe best thing about London, if we ignore the pubs, the exhibitions and gigs, easy access to tea cups featuring the queen and the fact that foxes stroll the streets, is that my office here is bigger than at home so there are more editors and more editors means more nerdery. We are gargling words.

We’ve talked style guides and said, ‘I think you’ll find Oxford disagrees with you,’ which means we’re bickering over hyphens again. We’ve pondered the difference between everyone and everybody and wallowed in the filthy pit of punctuation while bemoaning the general public’s love of unnecessary capital letters.

When we’re not doing the above, or fighting over whose dictionary smells the best, we’ve also been dealing with a query about email etiquette. Which is a danger, Will Robinson minefield. Although many consider emails to be informal missives, when you’re in the office they’re not. Even emails to your colleagues can be fraught with risk – people will insist on forwarding emails and your highly amusing comment about a client’s comb-over may end up in the wrong hands – which might result in slightly more than a spanking at your end.

But at a very basic level – use spell check. Please. I don’t care how good you think your spelling is – if you’re typing in a hurry, mistakes creep in like plaque – and no one likes gum disease. However, spell check won’t pick up everything, as anyone who’s made a public/pubic error will know, so read your email through once you’ve written it and avoid the embarrassment that comes from discussing third panty insurance.

Next – don’t waffle. Brevity, people. Brevity! And maybe lay off the exclamation marks, too. You’re not thirteen. I assume. Even if you are – stop using them in bulk.

Check how people’s names are spelled and if they use a variation of it. I’ve been addressed as Penny Watson before. I don’t go by Penny and that’s not my surname either. This is just a clue, but often someone’s email address will contain their name – with the correct spelling. Go on, give that a try and see if people actually return your emails with enthusiasm rather than sarcasm.

A friend’s colleague used to sign off his emails to her with kisses. Given she hadn’t met this colleague because they were in separate offices this seemed a) inappropriate and b) downright creepy. So I suggest you don’t do that either.

In lieu of creepy kisses I shall leave you to ponder what email etiquette you follow. Do you dash and go, and to hell with the consequences? Or do your emails double as novels that won’t be published?

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