Guide to Professional E-mail Communication

One of Landscape Ontario's mandates is to promote professionalism in the horticulture industry. The Internet has become an essential, everyday tool for effective business communication, however, it is often misused. By following these guidelines for Netiquette (network etiquette) you will ensure professional communication every time.

Guidelines for Netiquette

Don't type in capitals
When you use all upper case letters, it appears as though you are yelling. (SEE WHAT I MEAN???) Messages in all caps are seen as unsophisticated and may not be taken seriously. If you want to emphasize certain words, highlight them and make them bold, underline them or use italics. Also, one exclamation point or question mark will usually suffice.

Always type an accurate subject
The subject of a message will be used to reference your topic later. If you are talking about a new project or a certain part of a project, be specific when you create the subject line. If you must forward messages, remove any redundant "Re:" or "Fwd" to clean up the subject for the new recipients. Messages without a subject might not be read.

Forwarding jokes is a faux pas
Unless you know that the recipient really wants to get joke e-mails, don't send them. Most of these jokes have already made the rounds anyway.

Do not forward virus warnings
Most of the e-mails you receive that warn of viruses, and urge you to forward to others, are hoaxes. Before you hit forward, do a search on Google. You'll most likely be directed to a hoax-busting Web site that will explain the origin of the chain letter.

Use the blind carbon copy (BCC) field
If you send a message to a big list of people the BCC field will protect their e-mail address from being viewed by everyone else on the list. It will also help protect the recipients from getting viruses e-mailed to them from another recipient's computer. Similarly, some spyware applications have been known to harvest addresses for spamming, but blind carbon copy will help protect a recipient's address. Blind copy is intended to be helpful - it shouldn't be used with the intent to get someone else in trouble by sharing their e-mail without their knowledge.

Turn off your read receipt request
Nothing says "I don't really trust you" like a request for a read receipt. Most people find this request to be insulting, an invasion of privacy and just plain rude. Imagine the next time you check your voice mail, that a voice mail message would be automatically sent back to the sender telling them that you just heard their message. If you absolutely need to know that an e-mail has been read, then turn on the read receipt for that particular urgent message. Read receipts aren't accurate anyway - it means the e-mail has been opened, but it hasn't necessarily been read.

E-mail is not for large messages
Huge messages put an enormous drain on the mail servers, which do the preliminary virus and spam scanning. As a general guideline, if an e-mail is more than 3 megabytes, don't send it. Some people are using services like so they can put larger amounts of content online and then link to them in their e-mails. This way you can be assured that recipients will always receive your messages.

Spell check every e-mail
It only takes a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors to make your e-mail look unprofessional. Read over your message, spell check it and make sure it makes sense. Common grammar errors online include:
  • your/you're... you're is a contraction of you are.
  • their/there/they're... use their as the possessive form of they; use there as an adverb that means the opposite of here; and, use they're as a contraction of they are.
  • its/it''s is a contraction for it is and its is the possessive form of it (with no apostrophe).
  • E-mail is not secure
    Unless you're encrypting your e-mail (most people don't) then it is not secure and you should not use it to send sensitive information. There are many options available to people who need to send secure email but the safest is, unfortunately, the most complicated to set up. Check out Thawte's Free Personal E-mail Certificates for a free way to get secure email