Guide to email etiquette

In light of the continuous trend towards Instant Messaging, I thought I would post a guide to writing emails, and the differences between email and IM.

The following tips should be taken into account for anyone who uses email on a formal basis; be it for work, or communicating with family etc.

Top tip: Dont use IM terminology in emails - ever:

There is a big difference between IM and email, but it seems to be shrinking for some reason. I cant count how many times I see "Hey wat up? Hows life wit U? Saw Jim the other day, and I was like WTF?!?" Thats IM talk, not email talk.

Email is now the prime medium for business communication. Nothing will beat a phone conversation for communicating effectively, but there are many more emails floating around than phone conversations.

However, this doesnt mean to structure your emails like a presentation, as they are in essence a communication and conversational tool. The key is knowing when to be formal, and when to be informal (but not too sloppy).

So the top tip today is to always type in correct language in email. It cant take that much more of your time or effort to do so, and those that dont know what WTF, GTG, ROFL, and LOL mean will thanks you for it.


In the computer world, using capitals in writing is considered shouting. Not only is it hard to read, it is also considered rude. The recipient gets the impression while reading that you are shouting at him or her for some reason.

Make your intent clear

One major problems with email is the lack of cues a person can use to determine the sender's intent. For example, in a phone conversation, the recipient can tell if a person is playing a joke by saying "you should tell the boss I said he is an ass" by the way they talk light heartedly and laugh, but in an email conversation, this may be interpreted as a seriou request or threat.

It is therefore imperative that you make your meaning and intent absolutely clear. If a message can be misunderstood, chances are it will, landing you in hot water.

Know when to use Formal signatures

This tip is not necessarily gospel, but in my personal opinion it is commonsense and courtesy to be wary of when to use formal signatures in email.

Formal signatures whould only be used in emails sent to external sources. Signatures are a handy way of conveying contact and qualification details. However, chances are one of your work collegues already knows everything about you, and doesnt give a rats about your qualifications.

So the best thing to do for internal emails is to leave the formal signatures out. Having a simple end to internal emails also gives the impression that it is a more personal message.

In regards to replying to emails, you should also never use formal signatures. This is common knowledge. If you sent the first message, your details will already be in the email, if you were sent the email first, they already have your details, dont spam them again.

Use the subject field

I dont know why this is so hard for some people. The subject field is one of the most important pieces of information. Without it, a person does not know what the email contains. They can open it to see what it is about of course, but who wants more spammers knowing their email is active??

It also helps when categorising and sorting email. Those without a subject field can be hard to sort, or can take valuable time reading them again.

Use the BCC option

This is simply for the privacy of the recipients. If your email is to be sent to many people, you should use the Blind Carbon Copy field.

The BCC field is simpy a CC field, but is hidden from the view of the recipients. I, for one, dont want my email address to be spammed to however wants to see it, so use this courtesy tool well.

Dont forward junk mail

This is a big one for the email beginners out there; Dont forward your junk mail to us. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea:

- It lets spammers know that yours (and our) emails are active, opening the door for huge amounts of spam.
- It clogs our inboxes. We dont want your crap, keep it to yourself.
- It could contain viruses. A lot of junk emails contain hidden viruses, which are designed to be replicated to any email address it gets forwarded to.
- Above all; No, we dont want ink cartridges for half price, we dont want to know about the bad things that happens to us if we dont reply to that email, we dont want the latest in Viagra research...

Dont babble on

This is an important point for me. Its fine to babble in your blog or on your website; people dont have to read it if they dont want. But dont babble in your emails. People are busy, and dont have time to read pages long emails. If you keep it short and sweet, you can get your message across a lot clearer, and you avoid the risk of someone not reading the email due to it being far too drawn out.

This last tip is both a security measure for you, and a common courtesy for others:

Use an email junk filter and antivirus email scanner

This helps to keep the junk email away, and also the viruses that accompany them. This is both for your benefit (less junk email, less risk of being infected) and for your recipients (less chance of second hand infection, less junk email to be forwarded).

I recommend using Spambayes for your junk email filtering. It uses a learning system for sorting junk email and legitimate email. You teach it what is good, and what is junk. Expect a few false positives, and a few false negatives at the start, but once you teach the program, it is a powerful tool.

For email virus scanning, I use CA Etrust Antivirus. It is not a free antivirus however. I recommend AVG Antivirus for those of the tight-wallet.


meanmissy said...

this is a very useful post, especially now in this high-tech world, and even the kids use email...thanks for this...

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