20 Email Etiquette Tips

“I would love to get a long, convoluted, vague email chain from you,” said no one .. ever.

Email has been around for a long time and over the years, multiple generations have come to rely on it to make life easier and to communicate faster. Not naming dates, but I quite vividly remember having to distribute paper in-house memos (along with the digital counterpart) in my corporate days. Back then, it was common for someone to sit down and explain to someone (or multiple someones) that USING ALL CAPS IS LIKE SHOUTING .. SO DON’T DO IT, and that Comic Sans is loved by no one.

For the subsequent generations, email is simply part of life – good or bad. No one had to have the ‘ALL CAPS Talk’ with them, but there are still quite a few etiquette rules when it comes to email. So it’s no wonder that it’s time to hit the list!

Here are twenty unwritten rules of email etiquette:

  1. Write a descriptive subject line .. “Intro” is not enough.
  2. Keep email concise. It saves time and essentially shows that you respect the reader’s time.
  3. If you respond fast, your response should be even shorter.
  4. If the email is unexpected to the recipient, include a sentence to give context. Do this, especially in a first-time email but also when introducing something new, like an upcoming project, to a colleague.
  5. Items where you ask for something, or need action from the recipient, should be put first and made explicit. The reader should know immediately what it is you want from him or her.
  6. State a deadline quickly. If your request isn’t that urgent, make that clear. If an email is For Your Information and you do not need a reply, be clear about that too.
  7. Questions should be made as precise as possible. To ask a recipient what he or she thinks is a weak way of putting a question. Asking him or her if you can go ahead with a proposal will be much stronger.
  8. Lists should have bullets or numbers if possible. It will be easier to scan than a grey block of text.
  9. Put the really important things in bold, but don’t overuse it. Fonts used should be legible, not Comic Sans, for instance.
  10. When you know you won’t be able to do something someone has asked of you, reply by telling them when you would be able to deal with it. This will help your colleague to still plan ahead and you won’t have to read check-in emails.
  11. Don’t CC anyone unnecessarily, only the minimum people necessary to finish the job. If too many people are copied in, the less they all feel responsible for answering you.
  12. REPLY ALL should rarely be used. Don’t clog everyone in the department’s inboxes.
  13. When a recipient no longer needs to be part of an email thread, move him or her to BCC in the next reply, but say that you’re doing it in the first sentence of the email. For example: John, thank you for bringing me and Tracy together. I’m only going to BCC you and will be taking it from here.
  14. Double opt-in introductions will always be the better option. You don’t want people to dread getting an email from you.
  15. Don’t start discussing another topic on a thread about a specific topic. Rather begin an additional email thread with a descriptive subject line and add recipients.
  16. Try not to be the twentieth person to send a “Great job!” email. It is called ‘piling’ on .. everybody hates it.
  17. An email for a business purpose should have your contact details at the end. Keep it simple. No need to list your 10 social media profiles, full address, and so on. Clean+Minimal=Happy
  18. After a week, an extremely busy person might sort of expect you to forward the original email with a sequel message. Most extremely busy people expect one, but don’t exceed three.
  19. Only follow an email up within 48 hours if it is really urgent. Most people see email and answering them only as a type of correspondence, which have a lower priority than many other things.
  20. Don’t send an email while you are angry. Wait. If it can’t wait, then make a phone call.

I’m sure there are a ton of others out there, but can you identify some areas that need a bit of change? It’s ok. My local SCORE chapter is a lover of breaking both #12 and #16. Sigh….

Are there any rules of email that you will add to the list? Care to share some of your funny, or not-so-funny, poor uses of email? Send them my way 🙂

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