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Ten Dos and Don’ts of Email Etiquette

Updated: Mar 25, 2022


Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com from Unsplash

Email - it's such a common form of communication these days that it's hard to imagine a world without it. Do you know who sent out the first email? It was engineer Ray Tomlinson who sent the first network email in 1971. All over the world, individuals utilize email to keep in touch with friends, disseminate information, and perform business transactions. According to Campaign Monitor, statistical email usage in 2021 shows an estimated 3.9 billion active email users. Indeed, within business and industry, email plays the most critical role. Many organizations rely on email as their de facto communication method. The average businessperson can send dozens, if not hundreds, of emails in one week. Our communication represents us as professionals. Since people use emails more than any other communication method, we must understand how our email style can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) by our superiors, colleagues, and customers.


Over the years, different authors have developed conventions for appropriate email etiquette. Most of these rules were born out of a common-sense approach to communication. Overall, the most important guideline to remember is to put the same amount of care and consideration into an email that you would into a printed document. Emails can exist indefinitely on someone's computer system, as people tend to hang on to email much longer than printed material. The last thing you want is an old email to come back to haunt you. Below, you'll find ten of the best dos and don'ts for email usage. These techniques and tips can help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of bad email etiquette.

Let's start with the Dos


1. Do try to think about your message's content before you send it out. All forms of communication are easier to follow if you carefully plan out your words. If the email is longer than a couple of text lines, treat it with the same proofing and spell check process that you would use with a conventional printed document.

2. Do try to ensure that the content of your email is relevant to its recipients. One may treat electronic junk mail with the same enthusiasm as its traditional counterpart. It is not appreciated.


3. Do incorporate politeness into your emails. One can misinterpret being curt as hostility. Take a few extra moments to type in a greeting and a salutation. Your recipient will appreciate the gesture.


4. Do try to use humor and irony sparingly, especially with business clients who don't benefit from reading your body language or tone of voice. Emoticons (such as smiley faces) can help to indicate tone but check to make sure the recipient is familiar with their meaning before incorporating them into a message. Also, remember to avoid using emoticons and common conversational email abbreviations (such as LOL, ROFL, etc.) in formal business correspondence.


5. Do ensure that you have a relevant subject line. Having a subject line will help your recipient to file the email accordingly and reference it when needed.


6. Do try to quote from the original message where relevant. You can break the quoted message down into paragraphs and comment on them individually to help with clarity. When quoting from an email, use an indicator such as > to separate your reply from the sender’s original message.

7. Do include a brief signature to help the recipient understand who the email is from and how to contact you. When sending an email for business purposes, include your name, phone, and title in the signature. This contact information will help associates keep in touch with you should they misfile your business card.


8. Do use caution when replying to messages sent to many recipients. You don’t want to reply to a large number of people with a personal comment. Avoid using “Reply-to-all” unless everyone on your list needs to know the information.


9. Do run a virus scan on all attachments before opening them. It is possible to receive a virus from someone you know. Play it safe and delete any suspicious email.


10. Do be patient, especially with inexperienced email users. Give people the benefit of the doubt - just because you are familiar with email etiquette, it doesn't mean that they are. If you notice a pattern of inconsiderate email behavior, gently notify the sender of their error. They may not understand that they are being impolite and will appreciate the guidance.


Now, let’s move on to the don’ts


1. Don't reply to an email message when you are angry, as you may regret it later. Take some time to cool down, then talk to the other party rationally.


2. Don't keep email on your server longer than necessary. Go through your email folders once every couple of months and delete archaic messages.


3. Don't copy out a long message just to add a line or two of text such as "I agree." Send a new email.


4. Don't type in CAPITALS, for one might consider that shouting. Capitals can be used sparingly for emphasis, but an entire message in capital letters is the height of rudeness.

5. Don't send irrelevant messages, especially to mailing lists or newsgroups. Relevant content is always appreciated - irrelevant content is not.


6. Don't send large attachments without checking with the recipient first. The recipient’s mail server may not be able to accommodate the size of the file. Look at compression software such as WinZip to reduce the size of the file.


7. Don't send excessive general interest emails to people who aren't interested. Those types of emails are known as "spamming" and are considered rude.


8. Don't "flame" people by sending them abusive email messages. The response to your heated email may be worse than you had anticipated. Cooldown and work out any differences at a later time.


9. Don't make personal remarks about third parties in the workplace. An email has a way of working its way to the person you least want to see it.


10. Don't send unsuitable emails or attachments of obscene nature as a third party may find them later. You may find an offensive joke funny, but chances are the president of your company won't.


Emails have become part of our daily lives. Who would have thought twenty years ago that we could send messages halfway across the globe in the blink of an eye? By utilizing email responsibly and politely, we can all benefit from its efficiency. Email is a fantastic communication tool - use it wisely.


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Until then, remember the Dos' and Don'ts of using emails to communicate with others.


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