Ten Rules for E-Mails

November 26, 2002

We live in a remarkable world, different from anything our forefathers ever imagined.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in the speed of our communication.  When Alexander Graham Bell sent his first fateful phone call, he never envisioned that his simple telephone would transform the world.  Today, the click of a mouse button can send an e-mail message across the globe in the blink of an eye.  e-mail is like a digital postcard gentlemen—anyone can read it.  With instant communication comes instant "e-gaffes."  One wrong click can drop your friendship or your reputation into the dumpster.  Follow these rules to save yourself from future embarrassment.

Rule 1: Always check the To: field before you click Send.

Rule 2: Always check the To: field before you click Send.

Rule 3: Always check the To: field before you click Send.

Rule 4: Always check the Cc: field before you click Send.  Ask yourself too, if everyone on that line truly needs to see your commentary.  Use the Reply All button with circumspection.

Rule 5: Remember the carpenter's rule, "Measure twice, cut once."  Think twice before sending once.  In other words, put that message aside and let your temper cool before you send it.  Even if you send it in strictest confidence to your nearest and dearest friend, remember, a message can be forwarded to someone you never intended by a simple click of the "forward" button.  Always check the entire body of any message you forward (or even reply to) as there may well be something in the body of the message that was not intended for the recipient.

Rule 6: Treat e-mail for what it is; formal communication.  Use a proper salutation and closing.  Spell-check your work.  There are few better ways to leave a poor impression on someone than to send them e-mail with spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors.

Rule 7: Use draft folders with caution.  No matter what e-mail program you use, it can be easy to send e-mail in progress by accident.  Save that hot-and-angry note on a flash drive and lock it away someplace secure instead of keeping it in a draft folder on your computer.

Rule 8: Old news can become bad news.  Find your inner Yoda (or inner editor) and pause before you write something that could come back to haunt you later.  In short, avoid future embarrassment by not writing anything even remotely "off color" or off-the-cuff.  When in doubt, hit the Cancel key instead of Send—and remove anything potentially mortifying.  Remember that while it is human to err, e-mails never die, they don't even fade away into byte heaven; e-mails are forever.  Deleting sent e-mails on your system is only half the story; they could be sitting out there on some server, just waiting for a court ordered subpoena (recall the ancient e-mail's exhumed and presented during Microsoft's antitrust trial?).

Rule 9: Don't make jokes or comments via e-mail that you wouldn't make in person.  "E-mail can be a minefield of unintended insults," says Judy Heim, a longtime PC World staff writer, "I've stopped wisecracking in e-mail.  It's too easy for comments to be misconstrued."

Rule 10: Pick up the phone and call.  If it takes you more than five minutes to write an e-mail or the e-mail is more than fifteen lines, call the person.  You can probably accomplish that which needs be done in less time than it takes to write and send the note.

It is indeed a changed world.

Good night, gentlemen.