Netiquette, Vol. 5, Issue 25

Dear Etiquetteer:

How should we communicate professionalism through our e-mail since almost all online communication is so informal? And how much should we read into the online communication we receive? Once upon a time, people would have different stationery appropriate for different types of communication: simple and formal for business and something more expressive or whimsical for personal. Nowadays, people seem to think that one size fits all for e-mail communication. For example, one of my friends uses the e-mail userid "Sally6969" for much of her communication (although she does have a separate e-mail address for work). Now I happen to know that Sally was born in 1969, but don't you think her e-mail address might communicate something, well, different? In addition, I have seen resumes from people with e-mail addresses like "krazykat" or "fancynancy." Maybe these folks were named "Katherine" and "Nancy," but what are the guidelines here? And how do we remind our friends and colleagues about such things if they are, indeed, giving the wrong impression?

Dear Impressionable in Cyberspace:

First impressions last, even on the Internet . . . especially on the Internet, one might say. The use of a whimsical userid, which probably would not excite comment with social correspondence, doesn’t always make the right impression when used professionally. The women behind "krazykat" or "fancynancy," who Etiquetteer is sure are perfectly capable in their careers, would have made a better impression with a more neutral-sounding userid on a resume. Most people create one based on their names, such as "kjones" or "katharinej" or "fnancy."

Etiquetteer knows this from personal experience. At the start of his professional career, when Etiquetteer was in his mid-twenties and e-mail was not yet an international communcations phenomenon, Etiquetteer chose the userid "fun." That gave rise to much amusement over the years, but didn’t really convince people that Etiquetteer was very reliable, capable, or, yes, professional. Now Etiquetteer uses a userid based on Etiquetteer’s proper name, and gets along much better.

It’s also possible to give offense. Etiquetteer knows one woman who left an online discussion group she helped found because one man’s userid expressed his fondness for a specific sex act. Now that it’s possible for people to have an infinite number of e-mail addresses, Etiquetteer encourages everyone to tailor their userids for their communications.

Beyond userids – to get back to your original question – one conveys professionalism in e-mail by using all the rules of professional correspondence. These include proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation, no heavy-handed use of bold or italic type, and absolutely no animated .gifs! To be Perfectly Professional one shouldn’t even use those smiley icons, like :-) (though Etiquetteer will confess to using them occasionally if it’s necessary to emphasize that something is supposed to be funny).

Etiquetteer’s Dear Mother used to say, "A word to the wise is sufficient." When you see friends or colleagues conveying less than a professional impression in professional correspondence, gently suggest that they edit their correspondence a little more before hitting the Send button. Etiquetteer’s Dear Mother also used to say, "Less is more."