E-Etiquette for University Students

A Few Rules to Keep in Mind

Communicating with your university can entail sending a quick e-mail to Library Services to see if they have a book you need, or sending a lengthy e-mail to your tutor about a problem you are having with a course. Remember these simple rules of e-etiquette when communicating by e-mail.

The Salutation – How to Address the Recipient
If you have never met the person you are sending an e-mail to, or you are sending an e-mail to someone for the first time, always err on the side of caution and address the person the old-fashioned way. For example, if you are sending an e-mail to a general e-mail address and you don’t know who to address the e-mail to, just say “?Hello!’ If you are sending an e-mail to your tutor and his name is John Johnson, address your first e-mail to him as “?Dear Mr. Johnson’. Once your tutor replies to your e-mail, check his reply to see how he signed off. If he signed off “?John’, then you can assume he is giving you permission to address him as “?John’ in the future. Don’t address your tutor the first time you make contact with him as “?John’ only to learn he prefers to be addressed as “?Mr. Johnson’. Even in today’s electronically advanced age, it is still considered ill mannered to address someone informally, unless told otherwise.

Write Plain Language – Be Succinct and Clear
As with any form of written communication, follow the standard rules of business writing when you write e-mails. The two key rules to good writing is be succinct (use the minimum number of words to make your point) and be clear. By writing in plain language, the recipient of your e-mail will better understand your message; it will avoid misunderstandings and errors, and it will save you time by getting your message across properly the first time. Never try to be “?cute’ by using abbreviations (such as ttfn for ta ta for now) or emoticons (those little smiley faces) and never use vulgar or slang language. Keep in mind; your tutor is a well-educated, professional person, who typically does not appreciate bad English.

Check Your Tone
Whether writing on paper or in an e-mail, tone is a very sensitive issue. Try to ensure you sound friendly and approachable, yet at the same time professional, and avoid sounding angry or demanding. E-mail messages are like voicemail messages, if the recipient is turned off by the tone of the person who left the message, they don’t have to return the message.

Be Politically Correct – You Never Know Who You Are Communicating With
With the advent of the world wide web, you can talk to anyone, anywhere. You might be a foreign student living in China who has to send an e-mail to a tutor in Canada. Or you might be a Canadian student who has to send an e-mail to a tutor who was born and educated in Germany. The drawback to writing e-mails is you don’t always know whom you are communicating with. It is better to be politically correct than to embarrass yourself, or worse, insult someone.

Forget the Fancy Features – Loose the Crayons!
Most software programs have capabilities beyond our wildest imaginations and our needs. It’s okay to bold, underline or italicise the odd word for emphasis, but it’s not okay or even welcome, to make every word a different colour, font, or size. Most people don’t want colourful graphics because they take up huge quantities of memory and clog bandwidth during downloading. If you think fancy features will bring attention to your work, guess again. You might loose credibility if your recipient becomes frustrated while trying to read through your fancy features to get to your message.

Multiple Recipients – No Bulk E-mail, Please!
A major no-no is sending an e-mail to multiple recipients at the same time so that each recipient becomes aware of the other recipient’s e-mail address. In today’s world of terrorism and fraud, most people do not appreciate having their e-mail address advertised to people they do not know. If it means sending the same e-mail separately to 10 or 15 people, then do so.

Formats – Personalize Your E-mails
The format letter, now the format e-mail, is another source of contention. If you are sending the same e-mail to several people, take the time to personalize each e-mail so each person believes the e-mail they received was written specifically for them. When you send format e-mail to several recipients, it shows your recipient that you did not care enough to take the time to write to them personally.

Attachments – Ask First!
The best feature of e-mail is the ability to attach documents, such as assignments, to you tutor. This eliminates the need for expensive postage and relying on snail mail to make assignment deadlines. Again, due to terrorism and fraud, most people delete e-mails with attachments if they don’t know who the sender is, for fear of viruses and worms that can infect their computer. The best way to handle this situation is to check with the recipient, to see if they are okay with receiving e-mails with attachments, or if they prefer you cut and paste your documents into your e-mail message. If you are asked to use the cut and paste method, this is where not using fancy features will come in handy since some software do not convert exactly “?as is’ into e-mail messages.

Software Compatibility – Again, Check First!
If you are attaching documents to your e-mail, check with the recipient to see if they have the same software you are using and/or what version they are using. To be able to open and read documents, you must have the same software installed on your computer that you are receiving the documents in. Most people have compatible software and the latest versions, or at least they have the versions that are convertible. If the recipient of your e-mail does not have compatible software, then you will have to make alternate arrangements to get your documents to that person.

Scanning Documents Properly – Avoid the Headaches!
If you are sending an e-mail that has scanned material as attachments, make sure you understand how to scan, save, and e-mail material properly so when the recipient opens the scanned document, they will be able to read and print it with ease. Nobody enjoys printing scanned material that runs for 50 pages.

The Human Component – We’re Still Human Beings!
Don’t forget – sometimes it’s nice to hear the voice of someone you are communicating with. Your tutor might live hundreds of kilometers away, and you may never get an opportunity to meet them in person, but you can call, toll free, and hear their voice. Verbal conversation can also help cement the electronic relationship you have built with your tutor over the Internet. Give it a try!

When to Use Snail Mail – There’s Still Hope for Canada Post!
There are very few reasons why you would need to use snail mail anymore except for the obvious – returning library books. They just don’t seem to fit into the computer very well! But there is still one reason why you might want to use snail mail – to send a thank you card! Saying thank you in an e-mail just isn’t the same as receiving a hand-written thank you card in the mail. If you have a tutor who went out of their way to help you, or truly made a difference in your studies, then send them a thank you card in the snail mail and give your e-mail program a 5-minute break.

Personal Information
Your tutor has many students so remember to provide your first and last names, student identification number, address, phone number and e-mail address with each e-mail, so your tutor knows who you are and can get in touch with you either by phone, e-mail or snail mail.

Diane is a full-time, freelance writer. She specializes in writing technical articles for the oil and gas industry, but also writes feature length magazine articles of all genres, including Calgary-based magazines. She is working towards a Bachelor of General Studies degree.