7 Rules for Email Etiquette

When I was a boy, back in the 1950s, my mother would read to us from Emily Post. She was the etiquette lady of those times. And that was really boring (a 3- or 4-syllable boring, which might be spelled BORING) and seemed useless at the time, but I can’t say that it didn’t help me once or twice at awkward moments, later in life, to know which fork was which.

Sometimes manners matter. Particularly when they’re about making things easier for somebody else.

I’m still working on my cellphone etiquette, which I think is sorely needed these days.

And thanks to Joel Falconer for these simple rules for email etiquette. He posted them as Following Email Etiquette on Lifehack.org.

1. Use Descriptive Subject Lines

Joel points out that people scan subject lines.

make sure it is concise, clear and scannable. Don’t use awkward phrasing or unusual words, because they take more time to re-read and understand, hence increasing the amount of time it takes your recipient to process the message.

2. Be Brief

He has an interesting insight on this one:

In 90% of cases, email that is more than a page long is too long. Unless you’re explaining complicated concepts or providing detailed instructions (because they’ve been asked for or need to be communicated for a reason), then get back to the core of your message and communicate it quickly.

In my experience the kind of person who sends an opus for each email is the kind of person who assumes everyone is less intelligent than themselves or feels the need to explain completely irrelevant things. For instance, if you’re a graphic artist, you don’t need to explain the techniques used to create an image for a client when you hand over the work. They don’t care; that’s why they hired you instead of figuring it out for themselves.

3. But Don’t Be Too Brief

Hmm, that seems contradictory, but …

Context is important.

When replying to messages, clip off as much of the previous email as you can while keeping key sentences quoted in your reply. Ensure you provide contextual details that may seem self-evident to you, but not to the recipient – this is especially true when you’re emailing lecturers. Your course is not the only one they teach, most of the time!

4. Don’t CC if You Don’t Have a Reason

“Just keeping you in the loop” is a frequent reason given for doing this, and while there are sometimes cases where this is a good idea, for the most part you shouldn’t send someone an email unless you want them to take action on it.

5. Reply-All Isn’t Always Necessary

No explanation needed on that one.

6. Use BCC for Bulk Mail

If you absolutely must send a bulk mail to your address book, always, always use the BCC field. It’s a basic privacy measure and not only prevents your recipients from receiving endless spam as a result of your carelessness (who doesn’t already?), but shows your recipient you have respect for their privacy and some intellect.

7. Don’t Use The Forward Button

don’t bother unless someone requires the specific information in the forwarded message to complete their job.

Joel’s conclusion: “Email can be a massive waste of time. Help others cut their email time down and you’ll inevitably spend less time on it yourself.”


  • David Mackey says:

    One other that perhaps could fall under the no forwarding is ensuring you have your facts straight. Far too many emails are sent around about Islam this, Obama that, the government this, etc. that are entirely false…yet we pass them off as fact.

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