Email Etiquette: Summary

4 minute read

This is a summary of a four-part series on email etiquette.

This page is not intended to be a full guide to email etiquette: I wrote the other pages for a reason. It will probably be nice to read if you've read through the other posts and want a quick refresher, or if you're lazy and just want to see what I have to say quickly. For this reason, I also haven't put a lot of links in that I could have—if you're interested, click the main article link and find more information there.

Part 1: Using the Cc and Bcc Fields

  • Sometimes you shouldn't put everyone's email addresses in the To field. The other two fields are there for a good reason.
    • The Cc field can be used to indicate that you are sending a message to a certain person and only want to notify others of this.
    • The Bcc field should be used when you are sending an announcement to many people and don't need to share people's email addresses with other recipients of the message.
    • You can also use the Bcc field to hide the fact that you're sending a copy of an email to somebody else who needs to see it, or if you need to send a copy of an email to yourself and the Sent folder won't do the trick in your present situation.
    • If your email client will not allow you to put nothing in the To field (because you want to put all the email addresses in the Bcc field), put yourself in the To field.

Part 2: Subjects and Attachments

  • Make your subject line as concise as possible without removing important meaning.
    • If you want someone to do something, make that clear in the subject line.
    • Write your subject in title case or sentence case, as appropriate, not in all lowercase.
    • If nothing else, at least put something in the subject line.
  • Before attaching files to your email, consider whether you really need attachments. Instead, could you:
    • Paste the contents of some of those files into the body of the email?
    • Remove some of the files?
    • Zip the files so the recipient doesn't have to download a ton of files?
    • Post to a photo-sharing website? (Only applicable if you're attaching pictures, of course.)
  • If you need to send a large file, use a service such as Dropbox to share it.
  • To avoid forgetting to attach a file to a message:
    • Attach the file as soon as you think that you need to include a file. If you do it now, you can't forget to do it later.
    • Turn on your email client's "undo send" feature. This way, if you remember right after sending the message that you forgot your attachment, you can still take it back.
    • Use Gmail, which provides a warning if you write "attached" in your message but don't attach a file.
  • Don't attach unusual file formats to emails and assume that the recipients will be able to read them. The following file formats are probably email-safe: JP(E)G, PNG, GIF, TIF(F), PDF, RTF, TXT, HTM(L), WAV, MP3, DOC, XLS, PPT.
  • To avoid emailing a document back and forth zillions of times, use Google Docs if you're collaborating on a project.

Part 3: Replies and Formatting

  • Don't send replies to everybody without a good reason—stop for a moment and consider who really needs to see your message. This can make using email better for everyone by eliminating unnecessary messages from everybody's inboxes.
    • For examples on when I suggest replying to everyone and when I don't, see the full article.
  • Avoid backgrounds, changing the font or colors, or putting unnecessary images in emails.
    • Bold or italics, links, and the occasional embedded image can improve the presentation of your emails. Anything more is probably going into the "annoying" section of the scale.

Part 4: Odds and Ends

  • Signatures are nice—just consider what information about yourself will be useful in an email signature and what won't.
    • Putting your email address in an email signature is pretty silly unless it's somehow different from the address that you send your email from.
    • Snippets, quotes, and similar things are fine, but:
      • Keep it clean and inoffensive to everybody, no matter what account you're on. You never know when you might be sending formal email and forget to check what you had in your signature.
      • Change it occasionally. The point of including something witty in your email signature is to keep people interested, not to bore them by sending them the same thing for years in a row.
      • Don't create a monstrously long signature. Four or five lines is probably plenty.
    • Remove your signature if it's unnecessary or gets in the way of your email.
  • Don't forward chain emails, no matter what they say. Check out Snopes to see if they might actually have some grain of truth in them.
  • Keep your email as short as possible.
    • If it has to be long, summarize your email at the top and consider apologizing for and/or explaining the length.
    • Instead of sending a single person a five-paragraph email, pick up the phone and call them.
Soren “scorchgeek” Bjornstad

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me.

Copyright 2012 Soren Bjornstad.
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