Sipping your first cup of coffee for the day, you open the top message of a long list of emails on your computer screen. The email is short – as in confusingly, electronic-shorthand-short – leaving you none the wiser. Frowning, you open another one. This time your coffee gets cold while you wade through the message that drags on forever.

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Well, there is a remedy for emails that are too abrupt or too long-winded – and also for that potentially dangerous one: the angry message that your frustrated self would like to send while you drink the dregs of your cold coffee.

This remedy is workplace email etiquette. eish! spoke to Louis Jacobs, director of Corporate Communication and a member of the team who compiled guidelines for email etiquette for the NWU.


Louis explains why these guidelines are necessary and how they can help make our work lives easier. He also points out the do’s and don’ts of email communication.


Q: First of all, why should we worry about email etiquette at all?

A: Receiving and answering emails has become a very important part of our daily tasks and the way you communicate says a lot about the type of employee you are: your work ethic, your commitment to professionalism and your attention to detail.


The point of email etiquette is that it streamlines communication, helps you to deal with your daily tasks effectively and in the end saves you valuable time.


Q: What do you see as one of the big don’ts when using email?

A: When discussing private matters or sharing confidential information, always start with a new email. Don’t respond to a previous email string from the particular person – you might inadvertently include people who were part of the previous email string in a confidential email.


In fact, if in doubt, don’t. Be very sure of the validity and purpose of your information before sharing confidential or sensitive information, as this may have serious repercussions for you and your employer.


Q: What about writing an angry email?

A: Oh, that is a big no-no. Never write and send an email in the heat of the moment. If you are angry, give yourself some time to cool off and then respond. Stay away from expressing anger, reprimanding or being unkind to someone via email, especially if combined with the dreaded ‘reply to all’. Always remember that email correspondence lasts forever.


Q: Can you give us a few pointers on how to write the perfect email?

A: Include a clear, direct subject line, keep your message short and to the point, use professional fonts and check your spelling and grammar before pressing the send button.


You can even read your message out loud. Your ears will pick up something your eyes might skim over, and this is a good test for the tone of your email – it is easy to come across as more abrupt than you might have intended. For best results, avoid using negative words such as failure, wrong or neglected, and be polite – always say please and thank you.


Q: What other handy hints do you have in your guideline document?

A: In the document you will find information about using the vacation and out-of-office rules, and you will also learn more about carbon copy, blind copy and reply to all. We explain how to evaluate the importance of an email, how to know your audience and how to handle email attachments.


Q: A last word of email wisdom from your side?

A: Every email you send adds to or detracts from your reputation. In the professional world, other people's opinions matter and their perception of you will be critical to your success.

You can access the guidelines for email etiquette by clicking here.

eish! spoke to Louis Jacobs, director of Corporate Communication, about email etiquette at the NWU.