What Are Your Email Etiquette Rules?

The actual words we use make up for very little of the way we communicate, so it's easy to say the "wrong" thing or come across as impolite in an email. What are your rules of email etiquette that keep you communicating effectively when you can't talk face-to-face?

Of course, there is no single set of rules that always apply in every situation. Writing emails for work and an email to people in your life are two very different situations. But there ought to be some general rules for talking to humans. None of us like being treated poorly, after all. Young Entrepeneur outlines quite a few, from not forwarding chain letters to using B/CC properly to watching your attitude — all of which seem like good, reasonable rules to follow. What are yours?

12 Golden Rules of Email Etiquette [Young Entrepeneur]


    All I ask is that you are polite (usually I'm not the source of your outrage, so don't pretend that I am) and that you actually READ my email. Nothing cheeses me off more than someone who emails me looking for help, and when I reply, don't read it and come to see me anyway, without trying the simple "click this link to fix your problem" solution I sent them.

    I know we all can't be IT-savvy like myself, but when it's a single link that solves all your problems, it can't hurt to click on it at my request.

    I'd agree with the 12 Golden Rules, especially the one about signatures. Nothing worse that seeing a 12-line signature plus graphic promotional banner or logo breaking up an exchange of one- or two-line responses. On the other hand, it's just as discourteous (in professional email) to omit a signature altogether. There should always be a (brief) signature and it should include phone number so the recipient can respond that way if necessary without having to look you up in some other directory or address book.To that I'd add that it's smart to take advantage of the ability to automatically use different signatures depending on whether the message is a reply or a new message.

    To the list I'd add these etiquette rules concerning subject lines (again for professional email):
    * Make sure your subject line is clear and to the point and gives an idea of the kind of message 'inside'.
    * Change the subject if the topic in the thread changes to something completely new. (And as suggested in the original article, delete the irrelevant parts from earlier in the conversation.)
    * Change/adjust the subject if necessary when forwarding an email to a new recipient, especially in light of the next rule…
    * Think about what will be meaningful to the recipient in the context of their work. For example, if the recipient is responsible for payroll, don't send them an email with the subject "Payroll" – it's not sufficiently specific. If the recipient is responsible for collecting and editing book dust jacket blurbs, don't send them an email called "Blurb" – they will be dealing with many blurbs every day.

    1. Clear subject lines. ie "Question re Johnson account - deposit 10 Jan" not "that thing we talked about", "Johnson" or just blank / full stop

    2. Short, on topic, coherent

    3. A clincher statement. In other words, not just a big ramble about some problem; there has to be a suggestion - ask yourself 'what do I want them to do / what outcome do I want?'. State your problem or question and then ask 'so can we please meet about this today before 5' or 'can you please take a look at it and see if you can fix it.'

    4. Learn the difference between 'important' and 'urgent'. Important is rated by how business critical it is. Urgent is rated by how soon it needs to be done. Filing tax papers is important, but if it is only February then it is not yet urgent. Seeing a client who has unexpectedly turned up is urgent because they are right there on your doorstep and need to be seen asap, but they might have only a simple query that is not important.

    I have a million of these; I have often thought about creating a powerpoint and releasing it under creative commons just to stop all the shitty emails

    I go by these rules




    Two things:

    - If the sender has asked multiple questions, make sure you address all of them, not just the last. (It helps if the sender puts questions in dot points, rather than burying them in long paragraphs.)

    - Don't put the entire message in the subject (tempting for shorts emails but so annoying).

    Check out emailetiqette.com.au for 2 interesting reads:

    * Email etiquette about when it's appropriate to cc the "big boss"
    * Email etiquette about how to "do emails" on weekends

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