E-mail is a convenient and inexpensive means of communications for associations. Despite its apparent simplicity, it depends upon significant technological, sociological, and psychological underpinnings to be effective. The Leipper Management Group understands these underpinnings and uses that understanding to assist its client associations in the effective use of this communications method. This policy describes some of those considerations needed to implement an effective use of e-mail communications.
No one should receive e-mail messages they do not want (no spam).
Since the communication media and reading software used by recipients is unknown, messages should be short simple text messages only.
All accepted standards and specifications for e-mail should be followed.
Messages should clearly indicate for whom they are intended.
Messages should clearly indicate who to contact and how for comments, replies, or corrections.
Messages should not require that recipients be on-line to see the entire message content. Links to additional material or information should be used as references or citations.
Attachments should be avoided but, if necessary, clearly indicated in the body of the message and with a size that considers potential recipient mailbox limitations and download times.
Note: an e-mail client is the program or software that a person uses to fetch and view e-mail messages.
The specifications for e-mail define a header that contains information that specifies both how a message is to be handled as well as how it has been handled. Much of this information is automatically generated as a message is routed from its source to its destination. Some information is specified by the sender and LMG is careful to specify this information as appropriate for the message.
From: this information indicates the address being used to send the message. It depends upon the internet services purchased for e-mail transmittal.
Reply To: this information indicates an e-mail address to be used when replying to the message. It is automatically used by most e-mail clients when a 'reply to message' function is invoked while viewing a message. LMG usually sets this information to a specific client association address or a functional address so that replies can be easily routed for proper handling.
To: this information may be a specific e-mail address or group. The e-mail specification provides for the definition of destination groups that may be given a convenient name. LMG uses groups with names such as 'association officers', 'association directors', 'association members', and so on so that recipients can easily see whether the message is an individual communication or a broadcast to a particular group. By using groups, the privacy of the individuals is protected, the recipient gains information about the nature and content of the message, and the message is kept simple.
CC: there are times when a message is copied to selected other individuals. This information is also usually noted in the message salutation so that the individuals seeing the copy can see that they are receiving a copy and to whom the message is intended. The 'cc' information is also usually visible in most e-mail client software message displays
BCC: sometimes a blind copy is sent for record keeping or informational purposes. The use of these kinds of copies requires caution as the recipient may not realize that it is a blind copy which implies certain restraints in its use.
Salutation: a salutation is not a part of the e-mail specification. LMG will use a salutation at the beginning of the body of a message to help clarify to whom the message is addressed and note any copies that are being sent. This salutation is redundant as the message header information also contains this information yet is used because some recipients do not see the message header information.
Signature: a line with only a double dash and a space is defined in the specification as the marker that precedes a signature block. Some e-mail clients use this marker in their automatic quoting algorithms so they do not pick up a signature as a part of the quote. LMG uses this specification feature. LMG provides signatures on each message to identify contact information that augments or repeats the 'from' and 'reply to' information. The signature is also used to provide instructions about how a recipient can opt-out of any group mailing.
Word wrap and line length: LMG messages are simple text that depend upon the e-mail client to wrap lines as appropriate for the client viewing window. A blank line is provided between each paragraph.
Quoting: Since there may a time lag between sending a message and receiving a response, selective quoting is used in replies to help avoid misunderstanding. Quotes should be selected to indicate the essence of the thought that stimulates a reply and should serve as a reminder rather than a complete record. The selection of the phrase or comment to quote shows the author what was perceived as critical and allows comparing stimulus and response for appropriateness which is necessary to manage misperception problems. Quotes should not depend upon word wrapping but set line lengths of about fifty characters or so each preceded by a ">" or some other special character to clearly mark the quote. Many e-mail clients will pass the entire message body into a reply which must be edited so that only the parts necessary to enhance communication is left in the reply.
Emphasis: since e-mail messages are text only, typographic or font elements cannot be used for emphasis. Underlining can be indicated by an underscore before and after the section to be underlined. Asterisks and similar characters can be used to denote words or phrases needing emphasis. Overlining, a line with only underscores above a word or phrase on the next line, can be used to help set out headers and titles. Centering and any other positioning of text should be avoided as there is no way of knowing how a particular e-mail client will display spaces or tabs.
E-mail is a very free flowing means of communication like a telephone conversation but without some of the feedback mechanisms that help control conversation. As a result, it is easy for misperceptions to flower and blossom in e-mail conversations into language that is undesirable and destructive of relationships. All parties in e-mail conversations must take responsibility to avoid stimulated such exchanges which are known as 'flame wars' because the correspondents messages are marked by insults and invective.
Perhaps some of the best advice for avoiding flame wars can be found Leader Effectiveness Training by Dr. Gordon. Stick to observable behavior, clarify your understandings and perceptions, and keep your cool.
When responding to a message, respond only to the individual who wrote the message. Do not use the 'reply all' feature of e-mail clients unless there is very good reason to do so. Group discussions should only be conducted using appropriate subscription methods.
Keep in mind that what you say in an e-mail is recorded and stored. Do not write down in an e-mail message anything that will cause you embarrassment or discomfort if made public.
Bill Gates and Oliver North are just two high profile personalities who found out that e-mail can have serious and unwanted legal implications. Your communications may be subject to a discovery process in legal proceedings. You may be held liable for what you put in an e-mail message.
E-mail messaging is a significant and important part of an association's communication capability. This policy describe techniques and considerations for the use this of form of communication that will get the message across efficiently, minimize misunderstanding and misperception and provide appropriate consideration to the intended recipient.
The 'official' electronic communications etiquette guide reformatted in HTML format