E-mail etiquette: The medium is part of the message

November 05, 2010

By Sheilah Kyburz

Moses lifted stone tablets. Disciples drew in the sand. John Wesley rode the circuit. Bishop Clymer typed letters. And in 2010, we send e-mail messages through cyberspace.

Though the media have changed, the purpose remains the same: sharing a message—sometimes the message!

Crafting e-mail messages carefully can help church staff communicate clearly the content and intention of their messages. The keys are common sense, respect for others, and a little extra thought. Buena Rankin, assistant director of records and statistics of the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration, shared these tips with the Professional Association of United Methodist Church Secretaries last month.

It’s a letter

Format your e-mail as you would a letter on stationery. When placing the address of the recipient in the “To” line, take time to make sure you are sending to the person you intend. Don’t forget to delete (by simply highlighting and hitting the delete key) out-of-date addresses so they don’t “accidently” pop into the address line when you’re not looking!

When sending one message to a large group of people, enter the addresses in the BCC (“blind carbon copy”) area instead of the “To” line. This prevents the appearance of a long, unwieldy list of e-mail addresses before the actual message.

Identify the subject with descriptive words that will help the recipient know what your message is about before he or she reads it and helps them retrieve the message later. If your message is about more than one topic, identify each in the subject line.

Keep your message short and to the point. Develop it as you would a hard copy letter: greet the recipient, give your information or ask your questions, and sign off.

It represents you

Pay attention to details and accuracy. Check your grammar and spelling. Run spell-check and then re-read the entire e-mail before you hit Send. Don’t use complex graphics, and don’t send attachments unless the recipient has agreed to receive them.

When responding to questions within the spaces following each question you received, change your font type, color or size so you do not “hide between the lines.” Break paragraphs so your message is readable, and don’t try to emphasize every sentence by ending with numerous exclamation marks!!!!! DON’T YELL by using all caps in your messages. Be courteous to your recipient. As in all communication, keep the reader in mind and make it easy for him or her to read what you write.

It’s permanent and public

E-mails never go away! You don’t own your e-mail and e-mail can be read by others, long into the future. E-mails can be copied, printed, forwarded, mass produced, sent around the world, and saved forever. Be specific and don’t say things you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying face-to-face with the recipient.

E-mails can come back to haunt you, so don’t send one without considering the consequences and the permanency of your words. Just as in the children’s sermon illustration of failed efforts to put toothpaste back into the tube, once you hit Send, there’s no taking your e-mail back.

Use common sense, respect others, and think about what you are doing, and your cyber communications will be effective tools in your communication and ministry with others.

Sheilah Kyburz is the administrative assistant in the Minnesota Episcopal Area office and past national president of PAUMCS.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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