Email Etiquette

Do's and Don'ts of Email Etiquette

Although most people give careful thought to the contents of anything written down on paper, most emails are composed with much less consideration. However, email deserves thoughtful composition as well; since they can be forwarded on quite easily to someone else, they could potentially be viewed by many more people than an ordinary letter.

Day-to-day emails often cause the most problems -- the offhand remarks and unguarded comments, thoughtless turns of phrase, or careless wording. The formality of email in most businesses can vary between the style of an interoffice memo down to that of a telephone call. Be careful both when you send email and when you interpret it. Don't jump down someone's throat if there is a chance you may have misinterpreted what the writer is saying.

One problem with email is all the information that is missing. Normally, facial expressions or gestures (in person) or tone of voice (on the telephone) are vital to communication accuracy. Irony or humor can be difficult to express in a mail message -- many people get around this by using smileys such as : ) to indicate humor -- but not everyone knows what these mean, so they are not foolproof. Further, smileys may be considered inappropriately informal in some contexts. The following tips should help you avoid some of the pitfalls (especially when you are emailing your professors!):


Do always identify yourself in the body of the email - either by including a brief signature or at least your name to help the recipient understand who it is from.

Do always include a relevant "subject" in every email. Some email programs view a blank subject as spam, and your recipient may never read your email.

Do try to think about the message content before you send it out. Reread, spell-check and proofread.

Do make sure that the content is relevant to the recipients. Nobody likes to receive junk email.

Do be polite. Terseness can be misinterpreted.

Do use correct spelling and grammar.

Do try to use humor and irony sparingly. You can use smileys such as :) or :( to indicate facial expressions, but make sure that the recipient understands what they mean.

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 make it clearer.

Do trim any quoted message down as much as possible.

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.

Do be careful when replying to mailing list messages, or to messages sent to many recipients. Are you sure you want to reply to the whole list?

Do remember to delete anything that isn't needed or is trivial.

Do remember to tell people the format of any attachments you send.

Do consider your audience and what tone is appropriate for them.


Don't reply to an email message when angry or upset, as you may regret it later. Once the message has been sent, you will not be able to recover it. Don't copy out an entire, long message just to add a line or two of text such as "I agree".

Don't type in CAPITALS as this is considered to be SHOUTING. This is one of the rudest things you can do.

Don't use overly casual speech or other peculiar spellings such as "ur" for "your" etc unless you know for sure the recipient understands and doesn't mind. Some people may not understand this kind of slang, or may assume that you don't recognize those spellings as inappropriate to the context. Err on the side of being formal. Don't send irrelevant messages, especially to mailing lists or newsgroups.

Don't send large attachments without checking with the recipient first.

Don't send excessive multiple postings to people who have no interest. This is known as "spamming" and is considered to be ignorant.

Don't send chain letters or "make money fast" messages. There are several hoaxes about to do with viruses - never pass these on without checking with your IT department first.

Don't conduct arguments in public.

Don't "flame" people by sending them abusive email messages.

Don't make personal remarks about third parties. Email messages can come back to haunt you.

Don't send unsuitable email or attachments, especially anything of a sexual nature as they may well be found by a third party later.

Don't use an over-elaborate signature on your email message. Avoid using scanned images in a signature as these tend to be very large.

Don't mark things as urgent if they aren't because then when you really do have an urgent message, it may not be treated in the way it deserves.