Between the lines: Exercising email etiquette can save embarrassment, other problems

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that can make the difference between a good or bad response from others. 

 Just as the spoken word can’t be unsaid, an opened email can’t be unread. 

Once a message is sent, the fate of it is out of the sender’s control, but its impact is still the sender’s responsibility.  

“So, using the “If/Then” approach in emails concerning deadline-oriented projects might be best,” said Wendy Myers, a security specialist in Agile Combat Support for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Electronic Warfare and Avionics Division. 

“If you need a document back by a certain time, try saying “If you are done with the project, please let me know,” she said. “Continue by saying ‘If not, then please let me know when you expect to be finished.”   

Myers said using one’s manners is always good.  

“Please and thank you go a long way in an email,” she said. “Also, use spell check and make sure you read your email before hitting send. Spell check may find your spelling errors but it cannot tell that you should have used the word ‘they’ instead of ‘the’.” 

Grammar and polite wording only scratch the surface of responsible email communication.  

Hefty penalties await violators of the AFIs. 

In the electronic communication era, exercising email etiquette could save not only embarrassment, but one’s career. 

Myers said people must know what they’re sending.  

“Are you sending any Privacy Act or For Official Use Only information?” she asked. “If so, then you must ensure that you properly mark and encrypt your email. You must identify, using paragraph/portion markings, which lines contain the PII or FOUO data.   

“It is not enough to just simply select the email buttons for Privacy Act or FOUO before hitting send,” Myers said. “If you have an attachment that contains FOUO or PII information, you must ensure that you name the email appropriately – (FOUO) Alpha Roster.doc).” 

Air Force Instruction 33-332 and Department of Defense Memorandum 5200.01, Volume 4, provides a detailed guidance on email communication.   

“Since email has become such a large part of how we communicate with each other on a daily basis, I would recommend that we view our email like a phone call,” Myers said. “We would never answer the phone with, “NO, I’M NOT DONE WITH THAT REPORT YET.  I DON’T KNOW WHEN I WILL BE FINISHED.”  

Here are some things to keep in mind before you hit send: 

*Air Force email policies state that users should only reply to electronic messages that absolutely require a response and minimize the use of the Reply to All function. 

*Consider that if one person forwards a message to 10 people, and each of them forwards it to 10 people, by the sixth generation, more than a million emails would’ve been sent, along with all the network use, time and money spent reading. Send messages only when absolutely necessary. 

*Never reply to an email when you are angry.  You are a representative of your organization and the Department of the Air Force. 

*Never reply or send an email in all CAPS. It means you are shouting. 

*Be careful with your tone. Sarcasm can be misunderstood. 

*Be careful with using “reply to all.” If everyone doesn’t need the answer, just simply reply. 

*Use your signature block. Make sure you have all your contact information, but avoid the “personal slogans.” Personal slogans are sometimes nice and thoughtful, but your email is not private. AF Manual states, “Do not add slogans, quotes, or other personalization to an official signature block.” 

“We are all professionals,” Myers said. “Remember that. This is not personal. It is business and we are representing the Department of the Air Force.