I recently received an e-mail from a student requesting a potential rotation with me and was shocked at the lack of professionalism. Although we had never met personally (I had given two lectures at her university), she addressed me by my first name. I was raised that until you are familiar with a person, you are to refer to them as, “Mr., Mrs. or Ms.” The student then went on to use text message abbreviations in her e-mail, asking: “r u taking any students for rotations in May?”
Using “r u” may be okay in a text message to your friend, but it has no place in a professional e-mail. She then signed the e-mail using only her first name and did not include a phone number. Obviously, she didn’t get a rotation with me.
In addition to being mindful of abbreviations, remember that tone, inflection, body language and facial expressions can get lost in e-mail. Words or underlying feelings can be easily misinterpreted. For that reason, never try to solve a conflict using e-mail. Handling sensitive or conflicting issues is best in person; a phone conversation is second best. And when you are using e-mail to make a request, be sure to include words such as “please” or “can you.” Otherwise your e-mails may come off as demanding or preachy. Also, avoid excessive capitalization. Writing something in ALL CAPS may be interpreted as shouting or yelling. And in today’s age of spam filters, always make sure to put a topic in the e-mail subject line to decrease your chances of being deleted.
Lastly, many people feel a degree of anonymity and protection when they are behind a keyboard, and use e-mail or online forums to write things that they would never say to someone’s face. Avoid writing outrageously rude e-mails or posting disparaging personal remarks on professional online forums. Always proofread your online communications, and ask yourself if this is how you would handle the situation in person.