E-Mail Etiquette

E-MAIL ETIQUETTE

Updated and enlarged September 29, 2008 (first published March 20, 2008) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -

E-mail is a marvelous invention. I thank the Lord for it. I use it every day to communicate with people all over the world; but e-mail has created some very real problems, and I believe we need to be reminded to exercise some common-sense, godly e-mail etiquette:

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).

BE FRIENDLY AND INTRODUCE YOURSELF PROPERLY

E-mail tends to be a very short and curt method of communication. The average person gets accustomed to e-mailing his friends in such a fashion, and there is nothing wrong with that, of course; but he can forget that when he writes the first time to a complete stranger the approach should be different.

Pastor Buddy Smith in Malenda, Queensland, Australia, makes the following observation: “When I think of e-mail etiquette I think of things such as rudeness that would not be tolerated in an ordinary letter and abruptness that seems discourteous. I think the medium (fast communication and replies) tends to encourage bad manners. It is treated more like a phone call, but without the usual courtesy we use toward someone we are speaking with at that moment.”

I get a very large number of e-mails each week from strangers who write about the various subjects that I address in my articles. Some of them write to thank me and to agree, while others write to disagree.

I am continually amazed at how curt and cold many of these e-mails are. It is not uncommon that the writer will not even greet me in any sort of friendly manner or give me any information whatsoever about himself.

In the “old days,” when we used letters to communicate with strangers, we were taught how to structure them and how to give a friendly and respectful introduction, but this type of etiquette seems to have disappeared in the e-mail era.

For example, here is one I received recently:

“David, you should use the sources for your stories. I get many of the same ezines you do, and often see the same stories in your letter a few days later. You should at least use attribution. The problem is you source from mostly conservative evangelical sources yet hate evangelicals.”

This was from a complete stranger. I replied to him and explained that I am very careful to document anything I use from other sources and furthermore that I don’t hate evangelicals or anyone else.

This individual then wrote:

“Okay, perhaps I am wrong. I will watch and see. Believe it or not, I generally like you.”

It would have been helpful and proper if this individual had taken just a couple of moments in his first e-mail to have given a friendly and respectful greeting and to have explained that he reads my articles and generally likes them. It would have aided the communication factor greatly, because I would then have known at least a bit about who he is and where he is coming from. As it was, I simply received a curt and seemingly unfriendly e-mail that was only (and misguidedly) critical. (By the way, I don’t believe it is respectful to address an older preacher by his first name. Maybe I am just old-fashioned, but I always address someone like that as “pastor” or “preacher” or “Mr.” or even something other than a first name.)

I am not saying that e-mails should be lengthy and draw-out; I am simply saying that when we are e-mailing a stranger we should be friendly and respectful and take the time to give a simply introduction.

When I write to a complete stranger, I follow this policy, even if it is someone that I disagree with strongly. I believe this is the wise and godly way to communicate.

My secretary’s name is Lisa and she spends a lot of time each week sending and receiving e-mails. She says: “Because it is possible to misread the tone of someone’s email, I try to add comments that clearly show my intentions--friendly & polite. Also, I try not to waste other people’s time with long rambling emails, or like with those ‘forward this to 50 friends in the next 5 minutes’ things.”

The apostle Paul was always respectful and proper when addressing people, even stubborn Jewish leaders and wicked secular officials (Acts 22:1; 23:1-5; 24:10; 26:1-3). When Daniel refused to eat of the king’s meat, he did so in a respectful and wise manner (Daniel 1:8-14).

DON’T ADD PEOPLE TO YOUR MAILING LIST WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION

Rarely a day passes that I don’t have to write to someone and request that I be removed from their mailing list. Many times they have even taken offence. How dare me not to want to read what they want to send me!

People often think, I suppose, that since they like what I publish via the Fundamental Baptist Information Service that I would surely like to read what they have to say, but the difference is that I only send the FBIS e-mails to those who personally sign up for them. The database is automated and I never add people to the list. They have to sign up for it personally.

I am not talking here about people who personally send me news items. I appreciate that type of help and I sometimes use such items in the Friday News Notes. I am talking about those who actually add me to a mailing list. I subscribe to several mailing lists, but I want the freedom to choose which ones I receive and not to be added to lists without my permission.

Even if the list has an unsubscribe feature, why should I be forced to take the time to unsubscribe from a list that I never wanted to be on in the first place?

This is true for missionary prayer letter lists, as well. In the three decades that I have been a missionary, I have never added anyone to my prayer letter list who did not personally ask me to do so or who otherwise showed a very real personal interest in my ministry (such as pastors who invite me for a meeting).

To add complete strangers to your prayer letter list, expecting them to be interested, is somewhat presumptuous. If you think someone might be interested in your ministry, I suggest that you send one copy and explain that if he or she wants to receive the prayer letter on a regular basis that they can request to do so.

It is embarrassing to have to write to someone and request to be removed from their prayer letter list, but that is what I am forced to do time and again because I want to try to keep the daily onslaught of e-mail down to some sort of manageable level. It’s not that I am not interested in what is going on in every part of the world; it’s that I am only one very busy man and I can’t keep up with everything everyone is doing. That is the Lord’s job, not mine!

DON’T COMMUNICATE IN SYMBOLS OR CODE

Text messaging is even briefer than e-mailing, and some people try to communicate by e-mail with complete strangers using text messaging codes and symbols. Recently I received an e-mail that contained nothing but a weird smiley face and a rose. What it meant, I have no idea, and certainly am not going to take the time to try to find out. You might be able to communicate perfectly with your friends that way, but it is ridiculous to think that codes and symbols are a proper way to communicate with an older preacher who does not know you.

USE PROPER CAPITALIZATION

Some people like to write their e-mails in all-caps, but this has always struck me as either bombastic or lazy. Maybe it is just me, but this practice always leaves me with the impression that the individual is yelling at me! Others avoid the use of capitalization altogether, which again is an extremely lazy way of writing.

We were taught in school how to write properly and one characteristic is to use proper capitalization. To write in all caps or to avoid the use of caps is not proper communication and gives the wrong impression, at the very least.

We are living in a crude and rude age, but a little common-sense and godly etiquette can smooth some of the rough edges.

PROTECT THE IDENTITY OF PEOPLE ON YOUR MAILING LIST BY USING BLIND COPY

If you are sending an e-mail to a number of people, it is wise to use the Blind Copy (Bcc) mode rather than the Copy To (Cc) mode. That way those who receive the e-mail aren’t able to see the other names and addresses on the mailing list. This protects their identity and keeps someone from scarping up your mailing list and using it for their own purposes.

MISCELLANEOUS

The following suggestions were offered by Pastor Bobby Mitchell of New Brunswick, Maine:

“I would say that folks shouldn’t email what they wouldn’t say face-to-face. The same goes for the pictures that people pass on. There are pictures I’ve received from folks that I don't believe they would have shown me if we were actually talking together.

“Christian ladies should not be addressing the church via email with things they would not address the church with assembled. In other words, there is a lot of preaching going on by women via email in which they are teaching and preaching to men.

“Think about what you are passing on. Is it sensible? Have you checked out the validity of it by at least looking at snopes.com or something?

“Please don't trivialize the Truth by sending these silly emails that close with ‘if you love Jesus you will pass this on and if you don't we know you are ashamed of the Gospel’ (and such like).

“If an email is addressed to you then it was meant for you, not the whole world. We shouldn't forward personal emails without asking the author for the go-ahead.”


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