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Email Etiquette: Let’s Refresh The Basics

By Sophie Mackay

As a stage manager who relocated overseas last year for a startup, I was surprised at the many different ways that people used email. Sure, we were placed together from all parts of the world from different cultures, backgrounds and languages, but I thought that email etiquette was understood globally……. I was wrong. In an effort to corral the online craziness and misinterpretation across the internet channels in an already stressful theatre opening, I went online to gather a few rules to send to the team.

Today, company communications rely heavily on emails and they are coming at us hard and fast. From CEO to crew member, we all have an inbox or 3 to attend to, and with smartphones, laptops and tablets galore, we are expected to stay on top of information on a day to day basis. Gone are opening night faxes and the days where people would get up from their desk and go to speak to a colleague face to face; we are glued to technology every day.

So for those who haven’t been taught the ground rules or those seeking a reminder, here is Email Etiquette 101:

Explaining To, Cc and Bcc

To, Cc and Bcc have very specific roles. Use them. They send a very clear message to recipients as to what their roles are in the email.

To

Use the To field for the people that the email is directly intended for. If you are asking someone a question put them in the To field. Don’t write an email To Seymour, Cc Audrey and then ask Audrey a question.

Also, address your To people in the opening line “Hi Seymour and Audrey” so everyone else knows that the email is for them. (If the email is directed to more than four people just say ‘Hi all” or “Hello Team”)

Put as many people as you need to into the To field. Some people, by mistake, think the Cc field is for when there are many addresses.

Cc

The Cc (or carbon copy) field is for people you want to know about the content but as a spectator. They don’t need to (or shouldn’t) act or respond to the email. It’s generally used as a method to keep people informed.

The Cc field can be used for a number of reasons.

  1. It keeps other people “in the loop” on certain issues (often used to keep managers up to date on issues).
  2. It lets people know that they are being informed rather than being asked to take action.
  3. It allows you to cause the receiver to be aware that other people know what is going on (in case you want them to take the content more seriously, or treat it as more important or urgent). Be careful when using Cc in this form. Only use it as a last resort. It can be a form of bullying.

In short, Cc is a form of FYI.

Hints:

If you have been included in Cc rather than in the To field and you see content that affects you, email the sender directly rather than a reply all. You may not have all the information and it can save a lot of confusion.

When Ccing people it doesn’t hurt to do a small introduction. That way the receiver knows why these people have been put in Cc, eg “In Cc are Christine (Stage Manager) and Raoul (Producer)

Bcc

To use Bcc (Blind Carbon Copy) is to send an email to a recipient or recipients so that others (in the To and Cc fields) can’t see who it has been sent to. When people get an e-mail, they see all the people in the To and Cc fields – but not Bcc.

Bcc has two main uses.

  1. When sending an email to hundreds of people put them in Bcc. This helps with privacy, especially when dealing with high-profile clients and cast members. It also stops the first part of the email being a massive list of people. (I generally Bcc after I’ve hit 30 people.)
  2. Also, the Bcc field is used when you want other people to receive the message, but you don’t want the other recipients to know they got it.

Hints:

If you have sent someone as a Bcc it can be a good idea to let them know, on the side, that they were Bcc. It can be embarrassing if a Bcc recipient hits reply all to an email.

Never, never reply all when you have been sent an email in Bcc. Just don’t. Not cool.

Also, Bcc may not always be the best option to use as it prevents the receiver from being able to reply all to anyone else you had in Bcc. eg rehearsal reports.

Overview

To        People required to take action

Cc        Kept informed of the content, but no actions required from them

Bcc       Receive the message without any of the other recipients knowing. Also used for larger mailings (over 50)

Basic Email Etiquette

No. 1  – Include a clear and direct subject line.  When emailing internally use the Production Name and the subject you are writing about eg ‘Carmen Prop Flower’. If emailing externally add your Company Name or Venue as well ‘Opera House Carmen Prop Flower.’

Change it. When an email turns into a chain it will end up going on many tangents. Change the subject line to reflect the changes. If an email that started about a prop segues into a conversation regarding costume, alter the subject line to reflect this. Keep the subject heading true to the email’s content.

No. 2  – Include a signature and with it other ways to contact you. It can save a wealth of time and sends a clear message of the methods that people should respond to you with.

No. 3 – Do not type in all caps. WHEN YOU TYPE IN CAPITAL LETTERS IT WILL BE READ THAT YOU ARE SHOUTING. It is best to avoid typing words in capitals.

No. 4 – If you bold any of your type be aware that you are bolding your statement and it will be read that way by the recipient. (X 10)

No. 5 – Everyone is busy and the email boxes fill up very quickly. Try to keep on top of them. If you can’t answer an email straight away at least reply that you have received it and when you will be able to respond.

No. 6 – Use exclamation points sparingly. The maximum number of exclamation points in a business e-mail? One.

No. 7 – Keep it short and get to the point. The long e-mail is a thing of the past. Write concisely, with lots of white space, so as to not overwhelm the recipient. Make sure when you look at what you’re sending it doesn’t look like a burden to read – feel free to use bullet points.

Keep your word count down and your wording simple. The email is not the place to show off your wide range of vocabulary. State the purpose of the e-mail within the first two sentences.

No. 8  Be careful with sending emails as a high priority. What is a high priority for you may not be in the grander scale. Save it for the really urgent stuff. Constantly using high priority can also be seen as a form of arrogance. Why are your emails more important than anyone else’s?

No. 9 – Pick up the phone. Don’t use emails for small conversation (especially if there are people in cc.) If the email feels like you are ‘texting’ you probably are.

No. 10 – Create groups in your email for larger groups that are emailed constantly; eg show report, rehearsal report, production meeting, HODs notes, production notes. No one likes to be left off an email chain. Having the group already set up will save you the hassle and time of remembering every person.

No. 11 – When forwarding an email you’ve been sent, check in with the person who has sent it to you. If you, and only you, have been sent an email there may be a reason. Keep it between you and the sender. If you need to include other people in the response let the recipient know why. “I have included Elphaba in cc as she will be coordinating the monkeys in subject.”

No. 12 – Some topics should not be started with an email. If it is a new topic or it has the potential to affect people, sometimes a conversation is worthwhile first. Make sure people understand the topic and its intention first, then confirm the details in an email.

No. 13 – When conversing internationally, or email is the accepted form of communication, it can be beneficial to keep the number of recipients small on sensitive or new topics.

No. 14 – Drop people from your replies. There is no need to reply all with a ‘Thank you.’

No. 15 – If a person has missed an email you sent them, don’t pull them up on it. They may have a couple of hundred emails coming through their mailbox every day. Emails get lost in the cogs. They just do. And don’t use the email to pass off accountability for a subject that you were responsible for i.e. don’t email somebody with a task and cross it off your list. Keep that task on your list until you know it is done; emailing someone else, doesn’t mean it’s finished.

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