Email etiquette

[Adapted from: Netmanners and The Effective Emailer and Email Replies]

Perception is the only reality online. In an appropriate context, a cryptic exchange of messages can be a mutually understood method of communication between two people. In most cases, however, it is courteous to follow the conventions of effective communication.

Why do companies need to implement email etiquette?

  • Professionalism: by using proper email language, your company will convey a professional image.
  • Efficiency: emails that get to the point are much more effective than poorly worded emails.
  • Protection from liability: employee awareness of email risks will protect your company from costly law suits.

The following tips may be helpful:

  • Do not leave the Subject: field blank. A good subject line summarises the body of the email in 10 words or less—it summarises the message rather than describing it. People scan their inbox by subject—make your subject rich enough that your readers can decide whether it’s relevant.

BAD SUBJECT: Deadline discussion

GOOD SUBJECT: Recommend we ship product 25 April

—ask: who, what, when, where and why?

Guy Kawasaki (former Apple Fellow, columnist and venture capitalist) writes: ‘Craft your subject line. … It must communicate that your message is highly personalised. For example, “Love your blog”, “Love your book”, and “You skate well for an old man” always work on me. :-)’.

  • Do not write in all caps. Text in all caps is interpreted as YELLING in email. Even if you’re not yelling, it’s more difficult to read text that’s in all caps.

  • Refrain from using multiple !!!!! or ?????. Multiple exclamation and question marks risk giving the perception that you are sarcastic and condescending. Do you understand??????

Also … “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Keep it short. The ideal length for an email is five sentences. If you’re asking something reasonable of a reasonable recipient, simply explain who you are in one or two sentences and get to the question. If it’s not reasonable, don’t ask at all. …There is one exception to this brevity rule: When you really don’t want anything from the recipient and you simply want to heap praise and kindness upon her. Then you can go on as long as you like! (This tip cannot apply to some updates, instructions and so on; in which case it may be worthwhile to attach an itemised Word document rather than have lengthy content in the body of the email).
  • Do not thank others when you are requesting them to do something (e.g. ‘Thank you for taking on this task and thank you for getting a colleague to help you if you can’t’—rather, politely make the request in the form of a question and leave the ‘Thank you in advance’ or ‘Let me know if this is possible please’ for sign-off. This is more likely to evoke a positive response.
  • Always end your emails with ‘Thank you’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Kind regards’ or an appropriate greeting, and sign off with your name. Shortened forms such as ‘kr’ implies that the recipient is not worthy of an extra few letters; if you are that pressed for time, perhaps devise a standard email signature. (An email signature is acceptable, though less personal). Be aware that people can read a great deal into your email signature; for example, from a forum on the topic:

“A person I was obliged to work with who signed off the most inconsequential notes to people he did not know:

Warmest personal regards,


Did not trust this person further than I could throw them… how can you trust someone on the big things if they are willing to skimp on the small things?”

  • Limit your recipients. The more people you send an email to, the less likely any single person will respond to it, much less perform any action that you requested. … If you are going to ask a large group of people to do something, then at least use blind carbon copies (BCC); not only will the few recipients think they are important, you won’t burden the whole list with everyone’s email address. Nor will you reveal everyone’s email address inadvertently.
  • When replying to emails, respond promptly and edit out unnecessary information from the post you are responding to. Don’t let folks wonder if you received the email or are ever going to respond to their communications. Think about how quickly you would return a phone call or voice mail. Quote back. Even if emails are flying back and forth within hours, be sure to quote back the text that you’re answering. Assume that the person you’re corresponding with has fifty email conversations going at once. If you answer with a simple, ‘Yes, I agree’, most of the time you will force the recipient to dig through his deleted mail folder to figure out what you’re agreeing to. However, don’t ‘fisk’ either. Fisking is when you quote back the entire message and respond line by line, often in an argumentative way. Don’t feel like you have to respond to every issue.
  • Spell check your email, proofread for errors, capitalise your sentences and use appropriate punctuation and grammar. You want your emails to be readable.
  • Type in complete sentences. Create new paragraphs when the subject matter shifts. Always take the time to review your email before clicking send.
  • Avoid forwarding numerous jokes and large files to friends and colleagues without their permission. Do not forward virus warnings. Always minimise, compress or ‘zip’ large files before sending.
  • Never give out phone numbers or personal information without confirming you are communicating with a reputable party.
  • Do not use Return Receipt Request (RR) for each and every email you send because you like knowing when someone opens your email.
  • If you receive a nasty email, do not respond immediately—if at all. Chill out. Guy Kawasaki comments, ‘This is a rule that I’ve broken many times, and each time that I did, I regretted it. When someone writes you a pissy email, the irresistible temptation is to retaliate. (And this is for an inconsequential email message—no wonder countries go to war.) You will almost always make the situation worse. A good practice is to wait 24 hours before you respond. An even better practice is that you never say in email what you wouldn’t say in person—this applies to both the sender and recipient, by the way. The best practice is to never answer and let the sender wonder if his email got caught in a spam filter or didn’t even matter enough to merit a response. Take my advice and do as I say, not as I have done—or will do. :-)’.
  • Keep in mind that all private email is considered to be copyrighted by the original author.
  • Never just forward an email without a comment as to why you are forwarding it to the recipient. Do you want the party to comment or review? Is there a specific issue you want them to address? Did you have a particular reason why you forwarded that specific email?
  • When communicating informally, it is acceptable to use emoticons and shortened forms. Due to the lack of vocal and nonverbal clues with email, we often forget that eye contact, tone of voice and body language, which we take for granted when communicating in person, is not available in the written word without ongoing efforts to work at your writing skills. Use emoticons and acronyms when necessary to convey your message. If you are joking, include a smiley face :-), if you are sad or upset you can use :-(. If you need to type an extra line or two to make sure your intent is clear—do so.

From National Punctuation Day:

“While I like to write,
Punctuation is a drag.
That’s for editors.”

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