6 ways to look less like a twit via email

I’m sure you’ll agree that some of the things people do via e-mail makes them look deeply stupid. And I’m sure you’ll nod your head sagely when I say that people who attach little photos of kittens to their e-mails should be taken outside and beaten with a mallet (the people, not the kittens).

Not to mention those who forward the same silly chain mails you’ve seen every week, without fail, since you started using e-mail.

But there are a couple of things that you do – albeit occasionally – that are massively irritating to your readers. Not to mention, things that damage your professional credibility. Sorry to be blunt. Really.

You’ll be pleased to hear, however, that I know this because I am sporadically guilty of some of the selfsame misdemeanours. So, to ensure that we’re all on the same page at the start of 2011, here’s a list: 6 ways to be less of a twit via e-mail.

1. Little quotations at the bottom

In the business world, no-one really cares whether ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’ (Albert Einstein) or ‘You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist’ (Indira Gandhi). Your personal philosophies and mottoes, while they may inspire you, are completely incidental to those who read your e-mails. And they take up space. Which is unhelpful in as far as it relates to attention span. So save your little idioms for your Gmail account or Facebook. Please.

2. Pompous printing messages

How people choose to relate to your correspondence is their business, not yours. If they want to kill five trees a day by printing out everything you send them, so be it. The little eco-sensitive bandwagon has trundled past us, folks, so please allow your readers to do what they will with your e-mails and spare them plonkerish missives about saving the rain forests by not printing your message.

3. Coloured or fancy backgrounds

This e-mail habit makes me crazy. No, not crazy. Completely bloody mental. Because not only does it make the e-mail harder to read – and I’m battling to concentrate on it anyway, in the 15 seconds of attention span I typically give it – but it also colours my reply and therefore duffs up my own branding. As a rule, use black text (or blue or grey if that’s your corporate identity and you have to) on a white background, in a size 10, 11 or 12 at the most. That’s it. Got it?

4. Emoticons aka ‘smiley faces’

Okay, my hands are up. I’m guilty. I do this one sometimes, too. But only when the rest of my mail could be interpreted as hardcore, blunt or bitchy and I desperately need to soften the tone. My other personal rule for emoticons is: Use them only when you know the reader well. In other words, when you work with them, they work for you or they’re someone you write to really, really often. In all other instances, emoticons are cheap, amateurish and unbusinesslike.


5. CAPITALS used for emphasis

It’s no coincidence that everyone feels they’re being yelled at when addressed in all caps, because the human eye reads caps at one-third of normal reading speed – i.e. fast! This means that it always, always, always looks like shouting. In e-mail, please avoid all-caps at all costs, even for emphasis. Rather use bold or italics, both of which are softer. Also, please refrain from the urge to Sommer Maar Use Caps for Effect on Random Words, because it makes you look like a pleb.

6. Multiple exclamation marks

Never do this!!! No matter how excited you are. Pretend you have to pay for every exclamation mark you use and only keep the 1 in 20 you really need to make your point or call readers to action. Otherwise you will come across like a squeaky cheerleader, and that’s not good for business. No matter what business.

This piece originally appeared on Marketingweb as ‘6 ways to be less of a twit via e-mail’.