email_icons.jpgAlmost everyone has committed an e-mail blunder at least once: forwarding a message to someone who wasn’t suppose to be copied, forgetting to attach files promised in the e-mail text, quoting a lengthy e-mail just to affix a one-line comment to the end—the list goes on and on.

Since e-mail is part and parcel of our daily work and personal lives, it pays to know what proper e-mail behavior is, so you can avoid embarrassing gaffes in the first place. Here are eight rules of e-mail etiquette to keep in mind:


On E-mail Content

Write out your sentences. Text speak, or TXTSPK, evolved for SMS messaging, a technology in which space is a premium and longer messages cost more money. Don’t make the mistake of treating e-mail like you do your text messages. Spell out your words and flesh out your sentences. If you need to use abbreviations, stick to common ones like “BTW,” “OMG,” and “LOL,” and make sure to use these sparingly and in casual e-mails only. Text or L33T speak not only makes you look less competent and professional, but will give your recipients a harder time understanding your message.

Reply in the same language. When replying, use the same language as the person who e-mailed you. This provides less opportunity for misunderstanding, and it’s the polite thing to do, as it is in face-to-face conversation. Also reply in the same tone as the e-mail originally sent to you. If the original message is casual, then your reply should be casual, but if the language is formal and businesslike, yours should be the same.

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Keep it simple, but be thorough. Don’t send your recipients a novel to read through. Because e-mail is a quick and convenient medium, message contents should be brief. For multiple points or items, use bullets. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t beat a topic to death. Always be sure your recipient understands what you want of him or her, but don’t leave any vital information out. Use the three Cs of writing e-mails and other business communication: be clear, concise, and complete.

When replying, quote but don’t overquote. It can be hard to figure out what part of an e-mail you are referring to when you reply; this is especially difficult in long e-mail threads with a lot of back-and-forth sending and multiple recipients. To make it easier for your recipients, quote the relevant parts of the e-mail you are replying to, and make sure your comments correspond to the quoted sections. Never simply quote the whole e-mail in your reply, then tack your comments to the bottom.


On Sending the E-mail

Trim your recipients list. When you click “Reply to All,” that means every person who received the original e-mail will receive your reply. If there are people who don’t need to know the information you’re sending back, remove them from the recipients list. Basically, if they don’t need to read what you’re sending, don’t send it to them. Be careful of what you’re sending to e-mail distribution lists. When you can, check the group or distribution list you’re sending an e-mail to for people not in the need-to-know category. When in doubt, add your recipients individually.

Reread the contents of your e-mail. Does everything make sense? Does the language you wrote in match your relationship with the recipient? Is any information repetitive, missing, or incorrect? These are all things you may not notice when you’re focused on writing the e-mail; these errors may come out when you reread what you have written. Double- and triple-check your message, especially for business e-mails. In e-mail, as in conversation and snail mail, there are no real take-backs.


Use a descriptive but brief subject line. Make sure your e-mail has a subject, otherwise your recipient may dismiss it as spam. Have the subject give the recipient an idea of what the e-mail is about. “Hi there” doesn’t tell you anything about an e-mail, but “Agenda for Monday’s meeting” does. Subject lines can also be used to indicate whether or not an e-mail is urgent—however, remember the tale of the boy who cried wolf and only use the urgent tag when truly necessary.

email_attachment.jpgAttach your attachments. Double-check whether any attachments you promise in the body of the e-mail are really attached to the e-mail message you send. Nobody likes sending or receiving a follow-up message that reads, “Oops, I forgot to attach this.” Also, make sure you’re sending the right file. You don’t want to make the mistake of sending your boss the pictures from your weekend at the beach instead of the quarter’s financial projections.


For more on e-mail etiquette, check out the guides on,, and

(Photo source: 1, 2)

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