NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When email began to catch on, there were no real definitive rules or best practices for the medium. Users had to decide for themselves when it was appropriate to send or respond to emails, whom to include, whether to stick to proper grammar and how to label the subject line. And with the advent of smartphones and tablets, which allow users to send email on the go without much thought, the standards for emails have arguably grown fuzzier.
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Now, one influential figure has put out a list of 10 rules to get everyone on the same page and make emailing more efficient in the process.
Earlier this year, Chris Anderson, founder of TED, a nonprofit group that has put out hundreds of inspiring lectures online, became fed up with the sheer number of emails he got from day to day and identified what he believed to be the core problem, explaining on his blog in April that “the total time taken to respond to an email is often more than the time it took to create it.”
In response to this, Anderson called for suggestions from readers for a set of guidelines that would improve the quantity (and quality) of our emails. The result is what Anderson has called the Email Charter, a kind of Ten Commandments for the digital age more than 8,000 people have already signed up to support.
Many of the rules are simple common sense: Be as clear as possible in the subject line so the reader knows what to expect. Senders should indicate when an email requires a response, and recipients should know they don’t need to reply to every single email just for the sake of doing so.
Beyond that, the email includes some practical details that go a long way toward making emails less cumbersome. Don’t use unnecessary attachments (such as logos or signatures), don’t include the full length of an email thread (cut the text in the body to three back-and-forth emails at most) and don’t overdo it when CC'ing other recipients, since you’re taking up their time as well. Indeed, the golden rule – and the first rule on the list – is that the sender should always respect the recipient’s time, as the burden is on the sender to make the email as efficient as possible.
Anderson added several other useful guidelines on his blog that apply as much to your personal life as work, including abstaining from sending emails when angry or in a particularly emotional state and avoiding sending emails written in all capital letters.
In addition to these rules, I might argue, even more fundamentally, that there should be a three-word minimum rule in place, meaning that if the recipient can reply to the email in fewer than three words (i.e., it’s a yes or no question), the sender should either include "Y/N" in the subject line or just call or text people instead, so as not to clutter their email inbox. My inbox is a virtual graveyard full of emails sent and received saying nothing more than “yes,” “OK” and “sounds good,” and it may be another lifetime before I get rid of them all.
What are your biggest email pet peeves, and what rules would you recommend to crack down on them? Let us know in the comments section!
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