Few things get the grammarian riled up more than controversies like the trailing comma and the double-space after the period. Let’s not even go down the path of its/it’s, your/you’re and other misspelled conjunctions. As auditors, you write enough formal communication that the grammar errors bother you too. There, they’re, their: it’s all going to be okay.

Grammar has an equally bothersome cousin: Email.

A quick ask on social media about pet peeves in email etiquette unleashed a tirade of email annoyances from friends and acquaintances. The list of email frustrations is enough to make anyone self-conscious, because we’ve all committed email blunders of our own.

So, this week, I thought we’d review some common- (or uncommon-) sense email etiquette for auditors.

Use Your Title Wisely

A good email begins with a good title. The title should briefly communicate the theme of the email. When communicating with the audit client, you’re often in a position where you need information sooner than later. Including “pls respond” in the title or “Need document xyz...” will flag the email for response from the recipient.

If responding to a thread of emails, it’s okay to change the title to follow the follow flow of the email. For example, if the email string was originally about a Disaster Recovery Plan but morphed into a conversation around the Business Continuity Plan, let the title reflect that shift.

Keep the Message Brief

Most people prefer brief, well-organized emails. A good email should contain a polite greeting (e.g., Hi Tom, How was your trip?) and then get to the point quickly (e.g., I need your opinion on a cybersecurity issue).

If possible, state your point in a couple of sentences. For a longer message start with an introductory paragraph that highlights the basics and then outline the points after this paragraph. If you have questions that need answers, tell the reader how you’ll highlight these questions (i.e., Questions for the IT Security team are in  red).

Use Bullet Points

Speaking of outlining your email, bullet points are easy to scan and reply to. To guide the reader further, highlight each bullet point with a theme that is italicized or boldfaced (see the section for hand-held devices as an example).

Reply All is for special cases only

Be cautious when using reply all. This sends the response to everyone on the original distribution list, many whom are no longer involved in the email and find extraneous email a nuisance. In other words, if you’re a serial Reply All’er, everyone on your list knows it, and it’s time to stop.

Use Reply All when:

  • Your reply is necessary to know for the original sender and all people listed on the original emails To: and Cc: fields. That’s it folks.

Do not reply to all when

  • You have a simple message to send, such as “Thanks,” or “Yes.” Those replies may be helpful for the original sender, but not for everyone on the distribution list.
  • Your comments are crucial to the original sender and a few other recipients. In this case, hit Reply and add the specific recipients in the To: field.

When in doubt, break the habit of unconsciously hitting that Reply to All button and hit the Reply to Sender button instead and add specific names as needed.

Respond Quickly

Few things are more frustrating than when you send an email that is time-sensitive or important, and you get crickets chirping in return. Even if it’s just to say that you received the email and will reply later on, send the sender a short note (e.g., Thanks for sending this document. I’ll review it tomorrow morning and reply).

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Proofread Your Email

Before you hit the send button, make sure you

  • Proofread your email. Double-check spelling and formatting as well.
  • Verify that the subject applies to the entire email. If the email requires a response or is time-sensitive, make sure you communicate the need in the subject.
  • Verify the recipients’ addresses.

Watch your Tone

Because people can’t hear you reading your email, maintain some diplomacy. It’s difficult to joke or be sarcastic without coming across as snarky rather than funny. It’s also difficult to be angry for a few reasons. Words without voice inflection can come across as too harsh and unintentionally offend others. Likewise responding in ALL CAPS can communicate an imposing tone.

Use a Brief Signature

Long, fancy email signatures are so Y2K (which is also so from the year 2000). Before smart phones, signatures were intended for a large screen. With smart phones and other hand-held devices, signatures should be narrow and concise so the reader can read your signature without scrolling. Here are a few quick tips for brief signatures:

  • Keep signatures as short as you can while providing all of the information you deem most important.
  • Use simple text, avoiding colors or special fonts.
  • Avoid multiple phone numbers and email addresses. Choose your contact preference and get rid of the rest.

Consider Hand-held Device Users

Often, people use their hand-held device to check and reply to email. Emails should be brief with readable titles, especially for readers on hand-held devices (i.e., phones). Here are some other ideas:

  • Pls Respond. If you need a response, tell the reader in the subject line (e.g., New Presentation Slides – pls respond)
  • EOM or //. Communicate short messages in the subject line. If your message is very short, send the message in the subject line and use a double slash (//) or end of message (EOM) to let the reader know the subject is all they need to know.
  • Words. If responding via voice text, the phone can misinterpret your words. Before you hit send, double-check and make sure you are sending what you actually said.
  • Attachments. Try to avoid sending attachments for a hand-held device user, as they may be unable to open them.
  • Courtesy message. Phone replies come across as a little less formal and that’s acceptable. However, where formatting may fall short, it’s important to try to maintain the same decorum. If the conversation is still formal, use an introduction (e.g., “Hi Joan”).

Also, most phones include a courtesy message that the message was sent via phone. You can always cover your bases a little more and extend that courtesy message to read something like, “Reply sent from phone. Please excuse unintentional spelling and grammar errors.”

In the end, all you may need for your signature is your name, company, position, and cell or office number. You can design multiple signatures for multiple audiences as well.

Inevitably, we’ve all committed email faux pas. But, a little brush-up on email tips is always helpful, right?

Interested in learning more about similar topics? Check out one of Sarah's upcoming seminars here.

 

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