But without careful management, e-mail can turn into a torrent of unclear and inappropriate communication, befuddling even the most conscientious and organized of users. Effective e-mail management follows what may be called e-mail etiquette -- simple principles of courtesy and propriety that users should follow out of respect for their colleagues' time and efforts.
Whether you use an interoffice e-mail network or take advantage of its worldwide communication capabilities for business or personal messages, the following simple rules of courtesy will help you make the best use of this electronic medium.
Observe others. When on-line, pay attention to what others do. That's the best way to learn. For example, e-mail enthusiasts increasingly use combinations of punctuation marks to express various emotions. Note how these punctuation symbols are used for your own e-mail messages.
Always clearly identify yourself when communicating with others.
Keep messages relevant. If you're participating in a bulletin board or chat room on productivity, for example, don't lead the discussion astray unless the natural conversation leads to another topic.
Do it now. The time to respond to an e-mail message is shortly after you receive it. Most e-mailers schedule one or more sessions during the day specifically to respond to e-mail messages.
Use mixed case. Don't write in all lower case letters (which makes reading difficult) or in all upper case letters (which connotes shouting and anger).
Watch what you say. E-mail might seem like an impersonal communications medium. For this reason, you might be tempted to make unusually blunt or insensitive statements in your messages. Don't be afraid to express yourself, but remember e-mail is so easily forwarded, copied and redistributed you can't be sure who or how many will read what you've typed.
Get off inappropriate e-mail lists. Receiving inappropriate or irrelevant material through an e-mail message or copy list contributes to electronic clutter. Ask to have your name removed.
Investigate filtering software. If you receive a large number of e-mail messages daily, look for an e-mail program or add-on software that offers filtering or text analysis. This software categorizes e-mail messages by the name of the recipient, the subject of the message or a key word in the text. Filtering can make e-mail management more efficient and isolate high-priority information for easy retrieval.
If you use e-mail strictly for business correspondence, it may be wise to follow the basic rules of form and style that would apply to a business letter. Sure, if you're jotting a quick, informal message you may be brisk and brief and allow your unique personality and style to flow. That's perfectly acceptable in the world of e-mail.
For business correspondence, however, be conscious of the limited reading time many e-mail recipients have. Don't ramble; be concise but complete in your messages. And keep the right people posted. If you develop distribution lists, include all individuals who need to receive information from you. Ignoring key individuals diminishes the value of your message.
Remember, when you are communicating via e-mail, you're communicating with other people. Treat them as courteously as you'd like to be treated.
Richard G. Ensman Jr. is a syndicated freelance writer based in Rochester, NY.