Professional behavior is critical in the museum field. This is especially important as an emerging professional when we are establishing ourselves and workflows. Fair or not, people will judge you by how you carry yourself, speak, write, and dress. Solid email skills can impact your image in the workplace – people internally and externally will take note of how you conduct yourself when emailing. When I came into the museum world, I had zero email skills. I’ve learned much over the years and am sharing thoughts and tips that helped me finesse my email game.
Take email seriously. To state the obvious, email is written communication. Unlike the days of paper and pen, we now have time-stamped records of messages that we sent as well timestamped responses sent to us. If you have everything filed then you will be able to easily find that message should you need it (more on that below). We should treat our emails with the same care that we treat our paper archives. Just like a Snapchat, even your deleted emails never truly go away.
I would like you not to use passive voice. What you say is worthwhile and important. Passive voice sounds exactly like what it is – passive. It does not imply action. This implies that you are unsure and weak. Would you like this document or do you need this document? I’m guessing that you need it. As an expert, you have every right to speak in an active voice.
No emojis or emoticons. If you have never met the person with whom you are corresponding in person, do not use emoticons. It’s one thing if you are sharing a gif with a coworker, but do not add a smiley face in your email to a new external contact.
Watch those exclamation points! Unless you are legitimately in a perpetually energetic state, please do not use exclamation points as your primary means of punctuation. This pointy punctuation should be used as an accent to your missive. Use but do not abuse.
No Slang. Again, if you are not familiar with whom you are talking to, avoid using crass, crude, or slang terms. Contractions also fall under this one. Mind your spelling and grammar too. Just like public programs, knowing your audience is key when it comes to email. A good rule of thumb is if in doubt, follow formal writing rules. One of my favorite go tos is Grammar Girl for when I need to know random things like how to pluralize Batman.
No Jargon. Museums LOVE acronyms. It’s a great way to shorten the name of that gallery named after a donor. However, if someone does not work at your museum, they will have no idea what you mean. Even if you shorten the name of your visitor center to VC, that might mean nothing to someone else. I think it is also important to be aware of this when using museum terminology in general to non-museum folks. Using jargon can make your external recipient feel alienated and totally in the dark. Be inclusive with what you say. Museum Hack has a great article all about this.
Don’t get funky with your font. Your museum probably has a style guide that you need to follow, which you should follow even if the institutional font is Papyrus. If there is no branded font, use the default setting. Calibri, Arial, Helvetica and Times New Roman are perfectly acceptable.
Be responsive. If someone emails you or calls you, you need to respond. A simple “Thanks!” will suffice. Put yourself in the sender’s shoes. Wouldn’t you want an answer to the question or a confirmation that they received the note? Even if your response is, “I don’t know, but let me get back to you,” you are at least informing the sender that their message is on your radar.
Organize thy inbox. File it. File it. File it. And file it good. Trust me. This will help you, especially a year from now when you need to read that email again. Additionally, this will help you be more responsive to your emails since the only items sitting in your inbox will be ones that need to be handled or need action. As one who used to work with an unfiled inbox, my professional life changed 100% once I organized my emails. I was so much more productive and can find any email within the past four years within two minutes or less. There are many systems out there you can adapt, but I prefer to group by projects. A clear inbox makes for a clear mind. Oh, the joys of an empty and organized inbox.