E-Mail Wedding Invites and Other Netiquette Nos

Are electronic wedding invitations OK? May I forward a friend's personal e-mail without her permission? How big is too big when it comes to sending photos?

NPR consulted e-mail etiquette expert Judith Kallos –- who runs the site netmanners.com –- to weigh in on some of these modern communication problems. First and foremost, she says, when it comes to technology, it's not all about you. "Your e-mail involves the party or parties on the other side," she says. Remember that — before you send a huge file that could crash your friend's inbox and cause an important job offer to bounce.

Know your tone. Firing off an e-mail is easy — and made especially convenient thanks to hand-held devices like the BlackBerry and the Palm — but be careful that your messages don't come off as unintentionally blunt or demanding. Tapping out "I'd like this now" on your hand-held might seem appropriate while you're stuck in the car at a short stoplight, but to the recipient, it can come off as terse and demanding. "A please or thank you can soften a one-line e-mail," Kallos says. Because short e-mails require that the recipient hang on every word, she says, "It behooves you to make sure that the tone is what you meant to convey."

Stop e-mailing me spam. Love, Dad. Controversial spam can cause major family rifts. Kallos recalls an especially contentious e-mail brawl involving a mother who became so offended that her grown daughter had asked her to stop forwarding political content that she disowned her. So before you forward something on, ask yourself whether the person would enjoy it. If you're not sure, hit delete. And if you've received unwanted family/friend spam, Kallos suggests using your full inbox as an excuse to be unsubscribed. "Just say that your e-mail volume is so high that you'd appreciate being removed from mailings," she says. However, Kallos warns, you may run the risk of getting people upset anyway.

Size matters. So you want to share your wedding/baby/kids' prom/wedding dress photos with your family and friends? Remember that large files — and that includes movies, PowerPoint presentations and graphics — can overload mailboxes even if they fit in yours. Try creating a gallery on sites like Shutterfly.com or Snapfish.com — or upload them to a hosting site like Flickr — and send a simple link. For a few photos, try resizing images to about 500 pixels. Is your file size inching toward megabytes? It's too big.

Forward politely. Kallos suggests:

  • removing all but the guts of an e-mail you plan to forward — delete brackets, previous commentary and recipients.
  • checking sites like Snopes.com to determine validity of the contents.
  • writing a comment to personalize the e-mail — it shows the recipient you think it"s worth the time to read it.
  • DON'T FORWARD CHAIN LETTERS — or chain spiders, those e-mails that ask you to sign a list or send a recipe. If an e-mail says "forward," hit delete, Kallos says.

For CC and BCC — mind your P's and Q's. Are you your friendly neighborhood clearinghouse for e-mail forwards? Try creating BCC distribution lists so that recipient addresses are concealed. It makes for a leaner e-mail, and it prevents addresses from being plucked and added to other lists without permission. For workplace e-mails, remember that people in the To field are expected to respond, while those in the CC field are added for informational purposes. But don't be tempted to add recipients who don't belong on the thread — like including bosses just so you can "e-tattle" on a co-worker. "It's never a good thing for the e-tattler," Kallos says.

I hate your cute e-stationery. Graphic-rich templates may look clever, but they eat up space in a recipient's mailbox. They could trigger your spam filter to interpret embedded links as malicious and dump your e-mail directly into a spam folder. Also, limit your signature to text only — including color and fancy fonts adds unnecessary bulk. Also consider sending your e-mails as plain text for the same reason.

Your e-mail is my e-mail. Wrong. Treat personal e-mails you receive as confidential, and do not crib or forward them without permission. And just in case your e-mail does get forwarded, don't write anything that you wouldn't want your mother to see or published in The New York Times.

"I'm sorry, I can't. Don't hate me." Sex and the City fans will remember how Carrie Bradshaw was dumped on a Post-it note. Tacky? Cowardly? Lazy? You bet. For those same reasons, avoid broaching ultrasensitive or potentially devastating topics by e-mail. Similarly, avoid formally inviting friends and relatives to your wedding electronically. For some events — like announcing your baby or expressing condolences over a death — go to the card store. Want to save paper? Then pick up the phone. "The culture may be changing, but if it keeps going in this direction, we run the risk of losing our humanity," Kallos says.

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