How to Mind Your Email Manners

Communicate clearly and avoid common annoyances

Illustration of the 5 rules of email etiquette

Nick ReiterĀ @Lifewire

Despite the proliferation of online communication methods, use of email remains strong, with over half of the world's population using email in 2019. But that doesn't mean everyone uses it effectively. Whether you're brand new to email or have been clicking Send for decades, make sure you're following the rules in this list.

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Review Your Message Before You Send

So you've entered your recipients' addresses, created an appropriate subject line, written your message, and attached a couple of supporting documents. Great. Now go back and make sure you did it right:

  • Review the message. Is there anything unclear, or are there any grammatical errors or typos? Now's the time to fix them.
  • Would a link to an outside source help to clarify your meaning? Include it now.
  • Look at the recipient names. Did you forget an important person who needs to see the message too?
  • Look at your own address. If you have more than one, be sure you're sending it from the most appropriate one for the purpose of the message.
  • Does the message need to be tagged as "important"? Go ahead and do it now.
  • Did you forget the attachments? Add them now.

Now you can click Send with confidence.

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Don't Always Reply All

Reply All is a very handy feature when it's used correctly. Think of it as a "need to know" option. If everyone in the original mailing (the one you're responding to) needs to know what you have to say, go ahead and use Reply All.

For example, say your colleague Stacy emails you and another colleague, Steve, to come up with ideas about how to celebrate your boss' 10-year anniversary with the company. Your response is relevant for both Stacy and Steve. Therefore, Reply All is appropriate here.

On the other hand, say your friend Robin, who you haven't talked to for a while, sends a Halloween party invitation via email to you and 20 other friends. Your response to let her know you will attend the party, ask what you can bring, and suggest a one-on-one coffee get-together to catch up isn't relevant to any of the other mail recipients, so you would use Reply to send your response only to Robin.

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Write Effective Subject Lines

The subject line of your email should briefly capture the essence of your message. Here are a few examples:

  • Sales Meeting Changed to 3:00
  • Halloween Party Invitation
  • Website Text Revisions
  • This Week's Top 20 Video Picks
  • Details of Your New Membership
  • Confirming Your Appointment
  • Request for Fundraising Event Volunteers

To make subject lines even more effective, include any action you want the recipients to take, such as:

  • Halloween Party Invitation - RSVP by May 11
  • Website Text Revisions - Need Approval by Tuesday
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Explain Why You Forward

When you forward an email message from someone else, explain to the new recipient why you're doing it and how you expect them to benefit from it. For example, say a client, Jay, sends you a question that you don't know the answer to. You could forward the message to your colleague, Sara, with a note saying, "Sara, Jay wants to know the process for logging into our portal from his mobile device. See below for details. Can you help?"

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Explain Why You CC

Similarly, if you cc (copy) anyone on a message, explain to the primary recipient that you're doing so, and why. For example, say a friend, Jenna, wants to join your book club, and you're sending her information about it, along with a list of books the club has already read. You might cc the book club leader, Ann, and write to Jenna, "I'm cc'ing our leader, Ann, so she can see what I'm sending you and fill in anything I might have left out." When you use this process, Ann also knows why she's receiving a copy of the message.

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Let the Sender Know Their Message Has Been Received

Email messages can and do get "lost in the mail" or in your spam filter. As a courtesy, especially with important messages (such as those with attachments or having to do with deadlines), write a short note to let the sender know their message has been received. For example, if your boss sends you a new project to work on, you might reply, "Got it, I'll get started tomorrow."

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Use Acronyms Sparingly

Not everybody knows every acronym, so use as few of them as possible, and only when you're sure the recipient knows what they mean. Having said that, there are a number of acronyms commonly used in business email correspondence. Here are a few:

  • ASAP - As Soon as Possible
  • BTW - By the Way
  • EOD - End of Day
  • EOM - End of Message (typically used in the subject line to indicate there is no email body to follow)
  • EOW - End of Week
  • FYI - For Your Information
  • IMO - In My Opinion
  • OOO - Out of Office
  • Y/N - Yes or No
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Be Careful With Sarcasm and Humor

Because you don't get the context of facial expressions and tone of voice in email, it's not a good medium for expressing sarcasm or humor, especially with recipients you don't know well. Stick to expressing your message simply and straightforwardly, at least until you get to know a recipient better. If you really can't help yourself, at the very least include a "smiling" or "laughing" emoticon to show you're kidding around.

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Choose an Appropriate Ending

Sometimes it's hard to know how to end an email message. Here are a few suggestions, based on the situation:

  • Thanks or Many Thanks - If you're asking a favor
  • Cheers - If you want to wish the recipient good cheer
  • Love or Hugs - If you love the recipient
  • Best or Warmly - If you like the recipient
  • Sincerely - If your message is formal
  • Best Regards or Kind Regards - If you want to maintain a formal business tone