Regardless of the services you offer, you are in the communication business! Emails are, without doubt, still the primary means of communication among translators around the globe. Translators need to be aware that the emails they write are critical, not only in the information they detail but in the manner in which they are written. Sloppy emails among English speakers are one thing, but throw in emails that are sent to different countries and cultures. What of the potential impact then?
Regardless of your culture or origin, you need to follow some protocols when communicating by email. We have put together a list of do’s and don’ts when communicating by email. While this list is not exhaustive, it offers some key reminders that will make your email communication more effective and efficient.
The “Do’s” of Email Etiquette
- Clearly summarize the contents of your message in the subject line. Every email should have a Subject describing the project. That will make it easy to identify later on. Write your email Subjects as if they were searchable strings; include keywords relevant to the matter.
- Don’t use CC (Carbon Copy) to copy your message to everyone. This is particularly true at work. Currently, everyone receives way too many emails. Unnecessary messages are annoying. Direct your message to only those who need to receive it.
- Keep your messages short and focused. Few people enjoy reading on their computer screens; fewer still on the tiny screens in cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices that are popular.
- Write only the things you would say in public. Your message can be easily forwarded, even accidentally. This could put you in an embarrassing position if you divulge personal or confidential information. If you don’t want to share something you write, consider using the telephone.
- Check your spelling, and use a thesaurus. To ensure your message isn’t compromised by misspelled words, use your email software’s built-in spell / grammar checker.
- Check your emails every half hour. Don’t check too often, as your concentration level goes down. Determine a frequency that’s good for you and follow it.
- End your email message with a signature to help the recipient identify who it is from, especially if you are dealing with someone you do not know very well.
- Use email as one channel of communication, but not your only one. It’s fast and easy. It enables high-impact messages to be sent around the world. But use email wisely. Email is not always the best tool to communicate. Evaluate alternatives, such as a quick phone call, Skype, collaborative tools, etc.
- Encourage people to respond with questions. That’s akin to keeping your clients informed and connected.
- When out of the office for several days, read your emails by subject topic and date order so you will understand the sequence of responses, and respond when required with all the information.
- Use numbered bullets to make your points clear. This is very helpful for later discussion on conference calls, in meetings, etc. You can just say “Regarding item 4 in my email ….”. And when replying to an email, it’s practical to break the original email into questions or meaningful blocks and then respond in the message body to each of them with an identifiable color or initial.
The “Don’ts” of Email Etiquette
- Do not attach unnecessary files. By sending large attachments you can annoy customers and even bring down their email systems. Whenever possible, try to compress attachments, and only send attachments when they are productive. You may want to use cloud storage services like Hightail (formerly known as YouSendIt), DropBox, ShareFile, Rapidshare, etc.
- Do not overuse the “high priority” option or type the word URGENT in the subject. We all know the story of the boy who cried “wolf.” If you overuse the “high priority” option, it will lose its function when you really need it.
- Do not write in CAPITAL LETTERS. IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS, IT APPEARS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can be highly annoying and might trigger an unwanted response.
- Do not overuse “Reply to All”. Only use “Reply to All” if you really need your message to be seen by each person who received the original message.
- Do not use email to discuss confidential information. Sending an email is like sending a postcard. If you don’t want your email to be displayed on a bulletin board, don’t send it!
- Avoid long sentences. Try to keep your sentences to a maximum of 15 to 20 words. Email is meant to be a quick medium and requires a different kind of writing than letters. If a person receives an email that looks like a dissertation, chances are he/she will not even attempt to read it!
- Don’t reply to an email message when angry. You may regret it later. Once the message has been sent, you will not be able to recover it.
- Don’t overuse punctuation such as exclamation marks (“!”), as these are meant to be for emphasis. In particular, avoid more than one exclamation mark (“!!”), especially if your email is quite formal. And remember that many mail filters scan messages and consider text with lots of !!!! and $$$ and *** as SPAM.
- Don’t use an over-elaborate signature in your email message. Never ever use scanned images for a signature, as these tend to be very large files.
- Don’t use abbreviations and emoticons. In business emails, try not to use abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) and LOL (laugh out loud). The recipient might not be aware of the meanings of the abbreviations, and in business emails these are generally not appropriate. The same goes for emoticons, such as the smiley :-). If you are not sure whether your recipient knows what it means, it is better not to use it.
- Don’t use BCC (Blind Copy). It is considered impolite and involves a big risk. For example, a person who was BCC’d may reply to all, exposing the original sender’s attempt to hide one recipient.