Imagination is our power

These days, e-mail is used by just about everyone. Unfortunately,a lot of users out there don’t use it right,flirting with security risks, consuming excessive bandwidth, and practicing lousyetiquette. Here are some basic e-mail usage guidelines to help your usershandle their e-mail responsibly and to safeguard your orgizanization.

#1: Prevent virus outbreaks and spam

Viruses are often spread through e-mail. You can greatly reduce thespread of e-mail viruses by using antivirus software, using only e-mailservices that offer automatic antivirus protection (such as AOL, Google,Hotmail, and Yahoo), opening e-mail only from trusted sources, opening onlyattachments you’re expecting, and scanning attached files with antivirussoftware before opening them.

Spam is looselydefined as unsolicited bulk e-mail and loosely correlates to the junk mail thatturns up in your home mailbox. But spam represents more than unwanted clutter.It clogs e-mail accounts–and networks and servers–while trying to sellproducts, spread jokes, or propagate Internet hoaxes.

Reduce the amount of spam you receive by being cautiouswhere you post your e-mail address. Avoid publishing your e-mail address on Websites or submitting it to every site or organization that requests it.

Never forward chain messages, which often reveal coworkers’and colleagues’ e-mail addresses to other parties. Use caution when acceptinge-mail offers or agreeing to accept mailings from vendors; subscribe only toWeb sites and newsletters you really need and consider creating a genericHotmail or Yahoo e-mail account for these subscriptions.

Don’t open unsolicited e-mail. If you accidentally openspam, don’t click links offering to unsubscribe or remove you from the mailinglist unless the sender is a trusted vendor.

#2: Avoid phishing attacks

Phishing scams are designed tosteal consumers’ personal information. They often use doctored and fraudulente-mail messages to trick recipients into divulging private information, such ascredit card numbers, account usernames, passwords, and even social securitynumbers.

Online banking and e-commerce are generally safe, but youshould always be careful about divulging personal and corporate informationover the Internet. Phishing messages often boast real logos and appear to havecome from the actual organization, but those messages are frequently nothingmore than copyright infringements and faked addresses. If you suspect a messagepossesses any credibility, you are much safer calling the company directly–preferablyat a telephone number printed on a paper statement or invoice–and talking to anauthorized representative.

#3: Manage your Inbox

Sort messages by priority, subject,date, sender, and other options to help find important e-mail that requiresyour attention. Proper e-mail etiquette dictates that you respond to all e-mailin a timely fashion. Generally speaking, you should respond to all professionale-mail within a business day, even if it’s just to say you’ve received themessage and will look into the matter. Occasionally, you may receive an e-mailthread that contains responses from several people; always read the entirethread before responding.

#4: Compose professional messages

It’s easy to convey the impressionthat you’re unprofessional or careless if you don’t follow some basicprinciples of good business writing. Make sure you follow proper grammar andsentence structure when composing and responding to messages and use a spellchecker. Don’t type in all capital letters–it creates the effect of shouting. Breakyour message into paragraphs for logic and readability.

Before clicking the Send button, giveit a final once-over. Reread the entire e-mail, checking it for grammaticalerrors, punctuation mistakes, and typos. You’ll be amazed at what you catch. Alsomake sure your tone is appropriate for the message.

#5: Write effective subject lines

Writing subject lines can betricky, but you should always include one. The goal is to summarize the messagewithout being too wordy or too vague. Long subjects tend to be skimmed orignored, and they don’t always fully display in e-mail viewers. For bestreadability, use sentence case for subject lines rather than all caps:

Agenda for meeting on3/29/07

Not

AGENDA FOR MEETING ON3/29/07

#6: Properly use CC and BCC

The carbon copy (CC) and blindcarbon copy (BCC) features found in most e-mail clients allow you to sendcopies of an e-mail to others you need to keep informed but who aren’tnecessarily the primary recipients.

When copying others, be certain the e-mail message pertainsto them. If you use e-mail address lists, verify that all of the members of thelist should receive the e-mail, too, and remove those who don’t need to beincluded. And use the BCC feature sparingly. If sensitive topics require BCCingothers, it may be best to take the matter offline and discuss it in person.

#7: Obey etiquette rules when forwarding messages

Before you forward an e-mail, makesure that all recipients need to receive the message. In addition, be carefulwhen forwarding sensitive or confidential information. Never forwardproprietary information to external audiences or to unauthorized recipients.Before clicking the Send button, review whether a message’s contents areappropriate for each listed recipient.

#8: Don’t be a party to a flame war

Flame wars are heated e-mailexchanges that are more emotional than reasoned, and they have no place inprofessional communications. If you receive a flame or suddenly find yourselfin a flame war, take a little time before responding, if you respondat all. Think about the situation and reply rationally not emotionally.

You may also decide not to reply but to deal with the issuein person. Often, flame wars are started because of a simple misunderstanding.An ill-phrased comment (or even a well phrased one) can be misconstrued by arecipient, who then fires off a salvo in response. Instead of replying, go talkto the person and discuss the message. If talking with the person doesn’t endthe problem, involve a manager for assistance in resolving the issue offline.

#9: Protect e-mail addresses

Don’t divulge your coworkers’e-mail addresses to vendors, friends, or others outside the organization.Verify that recipients listed in the To and CC fields should be receivingmessages and that you won’t be revealing others’ e-mail addresses in theprocess. Don’t post your or coworkers’ e-mail addresses on Internet forums orbulletin boards, on Usenet groups, in chat rooms, or in other public areas.

Here are a couple of simple ways to help keep others’ e-mailaddresses private. First, use the BCC feature when you need to hide theire-mail addresses from external audiences. Second, delete their addresses frommessages you forward. It takes only a few moments and will reduce the chancesof coworkers’ e-mail addresses proliferating in the wild.

#10: Be smart about handling attachments

E-mail attachments consumeinordinate amounts of e-mail server space and network bandwidth and are oftenthe culprits behind virus outbreaks–but they’re often the easiest way totransfer files. Just be sure to follow these guidelines when e-mailing attachments:

  • Don’t attach large files to an e-mail; anythingover one or two megabytes shouldn’t be sent via e-mail.
  • Limit the number of files you attach to amessage to five or fewer.
  • Save attachments to your hard drive and thendelete the e-mail message containing the attachment.
  • Don’t open unexpected attachments or those sentby unknown parties.
  • Always scan files with an antivirus programbefore opening an attachment. Never click an attachment without firstconfirming that it’s virus-free.
  • Don’t annoy recipients by forwarding attachmentsthey can’t access. If an attachment requires a new or less-common application,say so in your message.

#11: Don’t include sensitive or potentially embarrassing information

Don’t make the mistake of thinkingyour e-mails are private. They’re not. Think of them as postcards. You shouldnever include any information in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want published onthe front page of your local newspaper. In other words, never sendconfidential, proprietary, sensitive, personal, or classified informationthrough e-mail. You should also refrain from making inflammatory, emotionallycharged comments in e-mail.

#12: Know when to use e-mail (and when not to)

Businesses provide e-mail forprofessional, business-related use, not for jokes, gossip, or chain e-mails.Also remember that you shouldn’t send an e-mail to do a conversation’s work.Complicated subjects are often difficult to explain face to face, much less inan e-mail. Instead of firing off a complicated explanation via e-mail, set up ashort meeting to address the issue in person.

E-mail is also a poor stand-in for conversation whenconducting critical, difficult, and/or unpleasant discussions, such as issuesrelated to human resources matters. Touchy communications are best handled inperson.

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