Fundamental Email Etiquette: 25 Easy Rules to Follow

Mind your manners when sending out emails

Writing effective emails
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Email has replaced snail mail for a great many business and personal communications. To send the best emails, you need to be aware of a few rules. The email etiquette police won't come after you if you don't follow them, but they are guidelines that help you avoid mistakes such as offending someone when you don't mean to and misunderstandings like being offended when you're not meant to.

These core rules of email etiquette help us all communicate better via email, and it pays to know them.

01
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Take a Second Look Before You Send a Message

Type once, look twice, and avoid embarrassing emails that have the wrong text go to the wrong recipient or recipients. So:

  • Pause a moment after you complete an email.
  • Look at the recipient(s) names.
  • Read the email message.

Only then should you choose Send. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In Gmail and a few other email services, you can enable an unsend feature that gives you a couple of seconds to undo potential damage even after sending an errant email. Where this is not available, try leaving the To field blank or entering your own email address, so you are reminded to take a final look before sending.

02
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Don't Default to Reply All

If "Reply" is good, then "Reply to All" must be better. Is that right, though?

Be mindful of the recipients' inboxes and don't send your reply to people who don't need it. 

03
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Keep Emails Short

Don't intimidate recipients with too much text. Compose a short and easy-to-grasp message instead.

04
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Use the Quote Feature Judiciously

Do you think quoting original text in your email replies is a lot of work? It isn't. Sometimes, it is important for continuity. Your recipient may not know what you are replying to, but if you quote the portion of the sender's message in your reply, your intent is clear. 

In most cases, you can copy the part of the sender's email and then select "Paste as quotation" (or similar verbiage) in your reply. If the sender's message was long, you don't usually need to quote the entire thing.

05
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Write Effective Email Subject Lines

Do you make silly errors in your email subjects? The key to getting your messages read, it turns out, is not to be clever. Instead, focus on giving the message's bottom line or summarize the message. Don't be wordy and leave out unnecessary words. If you want the recipient to take an action, say so in the subject line.

06
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Clean Up Emails Before Forwarding Them

Forwarding emails is a great way of sharing ideas, but make sure the original idea is not lost in obfuscation. It is perfectly fine to use a heavy hand in editing out parts of email chains that don't apply to the forwarding recipient — as long as the deleted parts don't change the intent of the message.

07
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When in Doubt, Send Plain Text Email, Not Rich HTML

Not everybody can receive your formatted emails. Some may even be annoyed. To be safe rather than sorry, so send plain text emails when in doubt. This is particularly important in a business setting, where time may be limited.

08
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Do Not Forward Email Hoaxes

You're probably suspicious when you see a too-astonishing-to-be-true email hoax in your inbox. Don't make the mistake of forwarding by email any story you have not investigated yourself and confirmed to be true.

09
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Don't Spread Viruses

Make sure you are not spreading worms and viruses via email or act as a vehicle for spreading spam. All this can be caused by malicious emails. Fortunately, there's protection: Use anti-virus software, keep it up to date, and scan individual files for free.

10
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Explain Why You Forward

Better communication makes better relationships. To forward emails and links in a way that shares relevant information and fosters ties, spell out at the email's top, why you think the recipient will find the information you share interesting.

11
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Let People Know Their Email Has Been Received

Span filters are welcome additions to email services, but they aren't perfect. Occasionally, they'll nab an important email. Spare others this nagging concern and let them know you got their email.

12
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Ask Before You Send Huge Attachments

Do not clog email systems by sending huge attachments or do it only with permission.

13
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Talk About One Subject Per Email Only

Make the world less confusing. Try to talk about one subject per message only. For another subject, start a new email.

14
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Punctuation Matters

Comma, colon, hyphen, and semicolon — all exist for a reason: They make it easier to understand the intended meaning of a sentence. Don't make life more difficult and possibly less interesting for the recipients of your emails. Pay attention to punctuation.

15
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Use Acronyms Sparingly

DYK? Not everybody knows every acronym, and these abbreviations do not save that much time anyway. So, use few if any acronyms, and only if you are sure the recipient knows their meaning. It's rude to make someone run a search on something in your email.

16
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Resize Pictures to Handy Proportions for Emails

When your photos look good in your email, you look good. Keep your attached email images no larger than the screen by resizing them in style — online and free.

17
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Writing in all Caps Is Shouting

Do not shout in your emails unless you mean to. Text set in all capital letters is construed as shouting and it is also difficult to read.

18
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Be Careful With Irony in Emails

No, really! I mean it. Honestly!

A medium that offers little context such as email is not suited well to irony and sarcasm, even if you know the recipient.

19
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Catch Typos by Printing Your Emails

For important, formal, career-tipping emails or love letters, print the draft before you click Send.

On a printed copy and with a pencil in hand, you can often find typos or misplaced commas neither you or your spelling checker caught. The job/relationship you save may be your own.

20
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Set Your System Clock

Make sure you don't send messages from 1981 or 3078.

21
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When in Doubt, End Emails With "Thanks"

If you don't know how to say goodbye at the end of an email, there's one thing that will almost always be appropriate. Thanks.

22
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Where to Put Your Signature

Without a line that says "sign here," how do you decide where to place your email signature? Place it right below the end of your text.

23
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Wondering "How to Put That in Writing?" Use "That"

Have you noticed how people who you understand perfectly well when you listen to them become cryptic and verbose when they start writing?

Don't be like them. Tell it like it is and say it in the same way you would in a face-to-face conversation. Now is not the time to impress them with your mastery of the English language. Go for short and sweet.

24
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Compress Files

Small is beautiful, at least when it comes to email attachments. So make files smaller before you send them via email.

25
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Avoid "Me Too" Messages

"Me too" is not enough content to warrant an email. It is annoying. Wait until you have something to add to the conversation to reply.