While social media seems to have become the dominant form of communication between potential clients and businesses, email is still very much central to marketing and retention efforts that personal trainers should be adept at utilizing. Exercising optimal email etiquette can be a pivotal factor in procuring and retaining clients.
This mode of communication is so prevalent today that it can be overlooked, but that doesn’t mean it should be underestimated. Each email you send is a document that represents you and your business. Read on for important email etiquette rules that every fitness professional can and should implement.
Not-so Empty Rhetoric
In its relatively brief history (compared to writing on stone walls, clay tablets, animal skins, tree bark, and paper), email has gone from a toy of the technocrat to one of the most prevalent forms of communication on the planet, yet email etiquette does not stray far from the roots of standard letter-writing.
Look at the heading of a standard email, and you’ll see it’s already been formatted into an address and a subject — a holdover from the written memo format. In a memorandum, writing is expected to be concise, while greetings and closings are perfunctory or nonexistent.
In terms of length, emails range from one-liners with questionable grammar and spelling to full-on missives with salutations and all the niceties preserved from the letter format. Most emails fall somewhere closer to the former. That’s not a bad thing, according to many experts.
Furthermore, images, advertisements, and hyperlinks adorn most modern-day marketing blasts sent out by businesses. What should a personal trainer focus on?
Thoughtful Email Etiquette Provoke Thought
Emails have the ability to be propagated as quickly as the push of a button. With that great power should come great responsibility and accountability. Thinking before acting is the key phrase here with regard to proper email etiquette. Whether that’s dashing off a quick reminder of an upcoming session, or sending blog-length keeping in-touch letters, the time and energy you put into your words will either earn respect and/or attention or unwittingly lower your credibility with your audience.
Keeping eMail Messages Brief
Reading from an electronic display is distinctly different from print documents in several respects. Apart from the physical differences (projected vs. reflected light) and proximity to a power source, most electronic documentation is meant to be read quickly with an emphasis on conciseness.
Use a Simple Structure.
Succinctly state your topic, briefly summarize background information, and then state your main point and any supporting material. Basic email etiquette dictates that rambling on will either annoy the audience who sticks with the content or otherwise totally lose the audience completely.
Exclude any information that is not directly related to your topic
Try to adhere to one topic per message. If you want to write about three different things, send three different messages. When you quote from a previous e-mail message (easy to do with most e-mail programs), include only the relevant lines, not the entire earlier message.1
Compared to desktop publishing software, most email software is limited when it comes to options for improving legibility and creating emphasis. This is still not a valid reason for using all capital letters to create emphasis: Using all caps is the rhetorical equivalent of shouting. That’s why there is a caps lock button.
Most programs allow for the use of a bold typeface or italics, as well as the ability to change character size. To set the record straight:
The typeface taken together with its point size is the font.
To write for on-screen reading:
- Write short paragraphs
- Put blank lines between paragraphs
- Use bulleted lists and numbered lists (like this one)
To Emoticon or Not?
Written communication depends mostly on what is written, not on what is between the lines. So subtle modulations in pitch and tone in speaking don’t translate well into typed messages. Emoticons have evolved from their typographical agglomerations to full-fledged, stand-alone icons that can be dropped into a text from many what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) HTML editors.
Joining the fray in the past few years has been generation after generation of small handheld devices that bring their own peculiarities into the communicative mix. It’s a two-way street. Small, handheld devices have seen the proliferation of shorthand codes such as LOL, BTW, ETA, and others that have crept into email use. So before dashing off a quick email to your client or clients, consider that not everyone considers such characters or codes acceptable.2
Should they even be used at all?
While it can be a temptation to include a quick smiley face at the end of a sentence whose dry humor might fall flat on the screen or otherwise be open to interpretation, consider recasting the sentence to avoid (or at least cut down on) ambiguity.
Research has shown that emoticon users tend to use such devices with close personal contacts, and even then, not everyone is hip to what a semicolon followed by a closed parenthesis signifies.4 Even unicode characters and purpose-made icons are not always rendered clearly or can be read clearly by all readers.
And 🙁 is indeed frowned upon in professional communications. If in doubt, leave it out.
Some eMail etiquette “Don’t’s”
Due to the ease with which email can be disseminated, never include anything in an email message that you aren’t prepared for a larger audience to read. For the same reason, be careful about mixing personal and work-related topics in the same e-mail message. Never write something about a person that you wouldn’t say directly to that person.
Email is a great communicative tool, but not if the topic is emotionally charged. In that event, it is better to talk to the person directly.
And while this should go without saying, here it is: Never include confidential information in an email message. Some other things to remember:
1. Premature Sending. Type the recipient’s e-mail address only at the point the message is ready to be sent. If you have an email list, be sure it is accurate and complete.
2. Forgetting an attachment. If an email message includes an attachment, upload the file to the e-mail before writing the message. It’s also a good time to make sure the attachment is the correct version before sending it to avoid multiple versions and unnecessary headaches.
3. Expecting a quick response. Don’t send an e-mail and expect it will meet with an instant response or even instant readership. Recipients will answer at their convenience if warranted.
5. Skipping new messages and replying to earlier ones. Read from the beginning of a thread. The situation may have changed from email a to email b to email c. Find out if that’s the case first, and, if so, respond to email c.
6. Overrelying on email as a communications medium. If the topic is truly urgent or is an emergency, choose another medium that often brings quicker results, such as the telephone or that most ancient of methods — in person.
Email etiquette may continue to evolve, but the basics will likely remain because our nature as human beings will not change much (at least not quickly). Know your audience, operate with professionalism, and astutely evaluate your own responses and reactions to another’s attempt at communication. If there’s any question of intent or tone, do your best to ask for polite clarification, whether over email or in person, so as to not jump to conclusions based on miscommunications.
1. Burke, Kenneth. “Definition of Man.“ The Hudson Review 16 4 (1963/1964): 491-514
2. Krohn, F. (2004). A Generational Approach to Using Emoticons as Nonverbal Communication. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 34 (4), 321-328 The Impacts of Emoticons on Message Interpretation in Computer-Mediated Communication Robb, P. (2008) E-tiquette. Office Pro, 68 (1), 24-27
3. Anderson, Paul V. (2007) Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach, 6th Ed.
4. Canavor, N. & Meirowitz, C. (2006). Working Words: Are You Guilty of Sloppy Emails? It Can Cost You. Communication World Bulletin. Retrieved from
5. Hayhoe, G. (2007, August 22). Six Tips for Effective E-Mail. Professional Communication Society Podcast. Podcast retrieved from http://ewh.ieee.org/soc/pcs/index.php?q=node/41
6. Krohn, F. (2004). A Generational Approach to Using Emoticons as Nonverbal Communication. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 34 (4), 321-328 The Impacts of Emoticons on Message Interpretation in Computer-Mediated Communication Robb, P. (2008) E-tiquette. Office Pro, 68 (1), 24-27