Introduction to Email
Email as a medium of communication has become an
almost indispensable tool for business, educational,
social and personal purposes. Its importance in the
future will, in all likelihood, continue to grow at an
almost exponential rate, despite the plague of spam that
is choking the internet.
Email has the advantage of regular postal mail in
that it is delivered into the recipient's mailbox for
them to read and reply to at their convenience, but
without the lengthy time delay involved with 'snail
mail'. Email also has the advantage of being quick and
easy. It doesn't oblige the sender to engage in
small-talk with the recipient, as telephones do. Using
the phone to convey a simple message to a friend might
involve a 10-15 minute conversation because no-one wants
to appear rude by hanging up too soon. In an
increasingly busy world, email allows the same message
to be conveyed in a minute or two without implied
Email is an electronic version of a written
Memorandum. Remnants of the Memo can be seen in the
header where the To: Cc: and Subject: fields closely
emulate that of the traditional Memo. The term 'Cc' is
retained because it still somehow makes sense to people
even though the days of making an actual 'carbon copy'
are long gone. Many people under the age of 30 will have
never seen a sheet of carbon paper, such as was used in
offices to make a copy in a typewriter of the original
There are no 'official' rules governing electronic communication,
though there have been attempts to establish one standard or another as
the default, there is no common agreement. So beware people telling you
there is one right way, they are assuming too much. As a general rule
though, netiquette involves the same principles as plain old etiquette
-- basic courtesy, respect and ethics.
By following the principles outlined below, the recipient of your
email will be more likely to read and act, if not be favorably impressed
by your message:
- Subject line to summarize the message. Make the Subject
line summarize the body of the e-mail. Ask yourself, 'will the
recipient' know what this e-mail is about'. For example, Instead of
Subject: fish fry, say Subject: Location of employee fish fry, 23
- Don't assume the recipient knows the background. Include
enough contextual information at the beginning of the e-mail for the
recipient to know what the matter is about. If in doubt, put
background information in. For example, don't say can I have an
extension for my assignment, instead say I refer to the CIT3622
assignment 1 that I handed in late. I was ill and have a doctor's
certificate. May I ask for an extension on the basis that I was too
ill to do it on time.
- Keep it concise. Keep messages brief and to the point,
but not so brief that it causes the problem outlined in the previous
point. This includes deleting any irrelevant text when an email has
been back and forth several times. No-one wants to scroll down
through pages of text in order to reach the message they want to
read. If the sense of the email will be lost by deleting that text,
however, leave it in.
- Reply within 24 hours. If a reply is needed, try to reply
within 24 hours, less if possible. In fact, get in the habit of
replying immediately -- the recipient will appreciate a prompt reply
and it will make you look efficient. The longer you leave it to
reply, the more likely you will forget or have too big a log-jam of
- Allow time for a reply. E-mail messages are not usually
required to be answered immediately, though it is good
practice if you do. Before sending a reminder, allow some time for a
response, some times even a few days. Not everyone is online 24
hours a day.
- Use the BCC field when sending bulk email. If you're
sending email to a whole list of people, put their email addresses
in the BCC field. That way, the privacy of the recipient is
respected, and spammers cannot harvest the email addresses for their
- Don't shout at people. Don't use all capital letters,
(UPPERCASE) or overdo punctuation!!!!!!. See the example below. This
common practice is the on-line equivalent of shouting. Its
considered by many to be very rude. If you must use UPPERCASE, use
it very sparingly and only to emphasize a particularly important
point. Ask yourself, 'if I was talking to the recipient face to
face, would I be raising my voice to them?' One way to add emphasis
is to enclose the word/phrase with an asterisk, for example "It is
*important* not to shout at people by using UPPERCASE".
- Avoid angry outbursts.. Don't send or reply to email when
you are angry. Wait until you have calmed down, then compose the
email. Once written and sent, it can't be recalled. Angry or
intemperate email has a way of rebounding on the sender. As a guide,
ask yourself, 'would I say this to the person's face?'
- Correct punctuate and grammar. Use punctuation in a
normal manner. One exclamation point is just as effective as five
!!!!! Use correct grammar as with any written message.
- Layout message for readability. Use spaces and breaks
between paragraphs and long sentences to make it easier on the
- Keep the thread. When replying to an e-mail, use the
reply option on the sidebar in your mail. This will keep the message
in the "thread", and make it easier for the recipient to follow.
- Spelling. Check your spelling! If you don't know how to
spell something, look it up.
- Don't Reply to All unless necessary. Think twice
about sending a reply to everyone. Perhaps only selected people need
to see this email. Sending it to everyone may simply be contributing
to an already cluttered In-Tray.
- Acronyms, abbreviations, and emoticons are OK within
reason. As long as you don't overdo it, and the recipients can
reasonably be expected to know what they mean, acronyms and
abbreviations are OK to use in e-mail. Emoticons (for example ;-) a
winking smiley face) are good when used in context. As a general
rule, you probably shouldn't use them when talking to someone in
authority unless you're sure .
- Edit the superfluous text out of emails.. When you are
sending email that has 'been around' in the sense that it has been
relpied to or forwarded many times, take the time to remove the
angle brackets '>' from the message. Its irritating for many people
to see text in such disarray. The easiest way is to copy and paste
the text into a word processor, and use the seach and replace
function to remove any unwanted characters. The example below breaks
both this rule and the one about shouting at people by using
>> >>> >THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN FROM A NEPALESE GOOD LUCK MANTRA.
>> > >>> >FIND IT TO BE WORTH READING AND WORTH SHARING:
>> > >>> >Do not keep this message. The mantra must leave your hands
>> within 96
>> > >>> >hours or you will suffer harm.
- Chain Letters.. Its becoming more common, as more people
use email for more varied purposes for it to be used for multilevel
marketing, chain letters, pyramid schemes and other dubious
purposes. The example above is one of the more benign examples of an
implied threat as a way to motivate the recipient to take action.
Another example is the chain letter that claims to be for the
benefit of a dying child or promises to make you rich overnight if
only you send it to five more people, and send $10 to the person who
sent it to you. Most people, myself included, find these email
practices particularly annoying.
- Don't be over-familiar with the recipient.. Many people,
are offended by strangers being over-familiar. As a rule, use the
title or form of address that you would use in verbal communication.
- Keep download size to a minimum. Big graphics can make
e-mails take a long time to load. If you have an attached file, the
recipient will often have to wait for your full message to load
before they can retrieve it. Its irritating to wait many minutes for
a message to load only to find out the attached page was not worth
- Illegal Activities. These include libel (defamatory
statements), discrimination (racial, sexual, religious, ageist etc),
some adult material (child or violent erotica), illegal information
(how to kill or injure people, incitement to violence, racial hatred
etc), This advice does not apply to the vast majority of email
users, who would never indulge in the aforementioned practices. But
for those so inclined, not only are these likely to offend the
recipient, people found engaging in illegal activities involving
email are likely to have strong sanctions brought against them by
the company and by the authorities.
- Email is not confidential. Its almost laughably easy for
the contents of your email to be read by others without your
knowledge. So its wise to avoid saying anything you wouldn't write
on the back of a postcard. Also, if you work within an organisation,
rather than directly connected to an ISP (internet service provider)
its becoming more likely that every email you send and receive is
scanned for certain words that are 'deemed unacceptable'. Email with
'unacceptable' content is quarantined, and record is kept. People
can be disciplined or fired if they send or recieve too much such
email. The organization has every user sign an 'acceptable use'
contract as a condition of their having an email account. That way,
the employee can be deemed to have broken the contract, justifying
disciplining him or her.
Correct priority. Avoid marking an email 'high priority'
when it is really 'normal' priority.
Avoid big colorful signatures. This may be fine for a personal email
account, however if you are within a corporate environment they can
detract from your organizationís image and also detract from your
message. A corporate email signature only needs to clearly state
your name, department, title and the various methods that you can be
contacted to be truly effective.
Excerpts taken from a page on email etiquette by David Tuffley, Griffith