Email etiquette

Email Peeves: 8 Rules of Email Etiquette

I recently wrote about the Holy Grail that is Inbox Zero: that moment of bliss where your email inbox is completely empty, with all emails responded to and cleared, filed away in folders, or deleted.

One reason email can be so time consuming is because of misdeeds by the people sending those emails.  If email senders — all of us, really — would only follow a few simple principles, your life (our lives) would be much easier. However, because we cannot call the Email Police if someone breaks these rules, we are left to police ourselves.

Below are eight simple rules of email etiquette we all should follow. If you think I’ve missed any, please add your thoughts in the comments below.

1. Do not use email as a substitute for chatting

Do not use email when you would otherwise use iMessage, Facebook Messenger, or Google Hangouts.  It is not a chat.   If your email is going to result in a reply that will lead to an endless-thread of back-and-forth short-line communications, that is not email; that is a chat.

If you want to chat, do not send an email.  Use a chat program. Better yet — pick up the phone.

2. Do not copy unnecessary people (same for “Reply All”)

Is it really necessary to copy Jim, Bob, Joe, and Bill, plus your attorney in that email?  Do not “cc” people unless it’s necessary.  They do not want to take time out of their day to read unnecessary emails.  I get tons of these emails that are not “to” me, but where I am simply copied, and they tend to clog up my email box. Not only do they take a lot of time to review, but they also effectively result in hiding other, important emails. Therefore, consider who is in that “cc” field, and copy and use “reply all” with caution.

3. Use the subject field

The content of your email should match the subject line.  Some of the worst emails are ones that have no subject or email threads where senders fail to change the subject header when they change the subject of the communication.  If you are replying to an email thread but changing the subject, change the subject header. And make sure the subject is clear and simple.

4. Stop sending pointless emails

Every email message should have a point or purpose.  If you write an email, read it before sending it.  Does it have a clear point or purpose? If not, edit it until the point is clear. If there is no point, don’t send it.

5. Use proper sentence and paragraph structure

Do not send lengthy, single-paragraph emails that can be broken up into other paragraphs.  Breaking different thoughts into paragraphs makes the email much easier to read and helps get your message across.

6. Do not forget grammar and spelling

If you send an email riddled with spelling and grammar errors, it not only makes you look like a half-wit but will also annoy the reader and take more time to read and understand.  Furthermore, if the issue is not important enough for you to to check spelling and grammar, it must not be very important. So why even send an email?  If you want to be taken seriously — and remain well-liked — proofread your emails carefully and use correct grammar and spelling.

7. Do not scream in all-caps

This should be a no-brainer, like the rule against screaming “fire” in a crowded theater, but for some reason people still do it. If you type in all caps, it looks like you are screaming.  You will alienate your reader and not be taken seriously.  You will seem like a jerk.

8. Edit down long email signatures

It is so annoying when people leave the same email signature for every communication.  An example is an attorney who sends an email for something as mundane as coordinating lunch, but the signature screams, “THIS COMMUNICATION IS FROM A DEBT COLLECTOR. THIS IS AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT A DEBT, AND ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED WILL BE USED FOR THAT PURPOSE.”  Coordinating lunch or talking to potential clients are not attempts to collect a debt. So do not use that line in your signature if it does not apply.  By including this and other disclaimers in every single email, it is like the boy who cried wolf in that, when you finally do have to collect a debt, the disclaimer loses its effect.  Same goes for those confidentiality notices.

I hope this list was helpful. If you can think of a rule that I missed, please mention it in the comments below. If we work together, perhaps we can stamp out these email misdeeds!