Guidelines for use of E-mail

(based on Connexional guidelines and approved by Edinburgh and Forth Circuit Meeting – June 2010)

“Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say” (Ephesians 4:29)

The use of e-mail has transformed the way we communicate with each other. Used well, e-mail makes our lives easier and we feel better connected withone another. However e-mails can easily be misinterpreted and misused. These guidelines attempt to steer us away from some of the most common pitfalls.

Addressing your e-mail
Good practice for sending e-mail
Good practice on receipt of an e-mail
Being negative
Adding attachments
Response time in replying and forwarding
Legal responsibilities and obligations

Addressing your E-mail
TO = Action. Generally, you should only use the ‘To’ box for people who are expected to take some action on the e-mail.
CC = Information. This should be used for people who are included for their information. Do NOT over-use this and simply insert lots of names without good reason; only include those people who will find it relevant e.g. it is worth asking: ‘do all members of a committee need to be copied in to an email conversation when only 1 or 2 will have the necessary information to respond?’
Be aware that long address lists can generate lots of conflicting replies or lead recipients to assume that they do not need to do anything because someone else will deal with the issue.
When sending to multiple recipients you can you avoid revealing lists of e-mail addresses by addressing the e-mail to yourself and putting the recipients addresses in the BCC section.

Good Practice for Sending E-mail

Take time in composing the mail.
Save it in the drafts folder and re-read it after a few minutes
Re-read the message from the point of view of the recipient
Is your e-mail message really necessary? The more mail you send, the more mail you receive.
Consider the alternatives
Do not use e-mail as a way of avoiding talking to people (or a specific person).
Do not write EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS. This always comes across as shouting and will seem rude to the recipient.

Good Practice on Receipt of an email

Be careful when you “Reply to all” – consider whether all the recipients need to see your response, or just the original sender. (If you as a sender wish to limit the recipients’ ability to reply to all, you should include them in the BCC field.)
Avoid generating long email histories by including all the previous emails and replies in a series of correspondence. But, also take care to include enough background to allow recipients to understand the discussion so far!
If you as a receiver feel the need to reply to all, consider carefully how much each recipient needs to see your response.
Do not forward emails to people not on the original address list without permission of the original sender.

Being Negative

Be extremely careful about providing negative feedback in an e-mail – however carefully a message is written, it will most likely be taken in a harmful and upsetting light by the recipient. It is far less ambiguous to provide negative feedback or criticism either face-to-face or on the phone.
If you do choose to use e-mail, consider again your relationship with the individual and never send the email on a “reply-to-all” basis or copied to others unnecessarily.

Adding Attachments

Limit the number of attachments you add to an e-mail. Receiving dozens of attachments can be frustrating:

They clog up the recipient’s mailbox
It becomes harder to know which attachment the sender is referring to
It duplicates a single document’s existence (making version control harder)
Instead:

Keep the list of attachments short
Consider inserting the text of an attachment into the e-mail
When you forward a message to a third party the attachment will remain, so consider whether the third party needs the attachment too.

Response Time in Replying and Forwarding

You should respond to an e-mail as soon as you can. Depending on the volume of e-mails you get a day, this may not always be possible; however you should always consider the requirements of the sender.
Would it be easier to pick up the phone and deal with the situation there and then? After all, replying to an e-mail will almost guarantee that you receive another e-mail from the same person two hours later.
Can you send a quick response, saying “thank you, I’ll have some time later to look through this in more detail.”?
Is it an e-mail that requires you to do something? Or can it simply be filed?

Legal Responsibilities and Obligations

Whenever composing an e-mail, you should always consider the following points:

E-mail is considered company property and can be retrieved, examined and used in a court of law or church disciplinary panels.
Unless you are using an encryption device (hardware or software), you should assume that e-mail over the Internet is not secure.
Never put in an e-mail message anything that you would not put on a postcard (i.e. visible to the courier).
Remember that e-mail can be forwarded, so unintended audiences may see what you’ve written.
You might also inadvertently send something to the wrong party, so always keep the content professional to avoid embarrassment.
E-mails are a formal record, and can be contractually binding.
An abusive or harassing e-mail can be the subject of disciplinary procedures.
All e-mails sent in the name of a local church or Circuit to an outside body, should include the relevant Scottish Charity Number.

(Edinburgh and Forth Methodist Circuit – Scottish Charity SCO37950)