Readers Speak Out on E-mail Etiquette

Lora Bentley
Slide Show

Top Five Rules for E-mail Etiquette

Follow these simple rules to look more professional in the world of e-business communication.

Last month, when sheer exasperation prompted me to share the disaster of an e-mail my colleagues and I had received from a new service provider, I had no idea it would strike such a chord. For the last few weeks, readers have been chiming in-some to agree with me, some to chastise me for wasting their time and others to add their e-mail etiquette pet peeves to my list.


Since the latter group raised a few issues that I hadn't considered, I thought I'd share. Please don't hesitate to add your two cents.


First, one anonymous reader bemoaned the e-mail with the endless string of replies. If you find yourself scrolling through more than five replies to get to the original message before you can add your own thoughts, this reader says, e-mail is probably not the appropriate medium for this particular conversation.


But another reader, who identifies himself only as "Steven," points out that the string of replies may be exactly what you want to preserve in certain industries. "It's a nice way of keeping the relevant information all in one place," he said. "I need the audit trail of an e-mail message."


Then there's the dreaded inadvertent click on "Reply All" when you meant to reply to only a select few on the mailing list. (I actually did consider this, but more than one reader brought it up in the comments, so it warrants mention again here.) This gaffe opens more cans of worms than one might think, especially if you work in an industry where confidentiality is at a premium: health care information, financial services, legal services or any number of counseling professions.


One wrong click means everyone on your list knows more of one client's business than anyone ever wanted or needed to know. So readers suggested avoiding the use of "reply all" altogether. Hide the button, if that's possible in your e-mail program. If it's not there, you can't hit it by accident. But when that's not practical or possible, just be vigilant about proofreading your messages-including the To:, CC: and BCC: fields-before sending them on their way.


In the same vein, be wary of the autofill feature that many programs offer. That's the feature that fills in the rest of the recipient's address after you type the first few letters. When your office is like ours at IT Business Edge-we have more than one Mike; two people named Travis; Lori, Loraine and Lora; Amy and Amanda; and then Jon, John, John and Johanna, among other similar names-autofill can betray you in a hurry.


Finally, two readers pointed out that highlighting and bold fonts were not only hard to read in the e-mail program on a computer, more often than not they do not translate at all if the recipients are reading e-mail on their smartphones or other mobile devices. So you would have spent the extra time to bold and highlight for no reason.


And mobile is very quickly becoming the computing mechanism of choice. One quarter of respondents to a recent ITBE survey indicated they don't currently have a smartphone, but only 3 percent said they won't have one in a year. As such, I'd imagine that such things as highlighting will become obsolete-at least in e-mail.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 26, 2011 6:25 PM sandra folk sandra folk  says:

Yes, emails that people send can be quite scary. At my company, The Language Lab, we work with business and government to improve executives and employees written communication. One of our most popular programs is our email writing course. In it we help people improve their email writing. We provide learning about how to organize messages so they get read, proper email etiquette, grammar and sentence structure and how to write a proper subject line, etc.  Please visit our site to read my year end blog on tips for best email writing. You might have the person/people who sent you the email message that was so awful read our blog for some helpful tips or sign up for our email writing course.

Feb 2, 2011 11:27 AM Jeff Urbanek Jeff Urbanek  says:

How about the now common trend of having no salutation, thanks, or from line; It may be quicker but I think it is impersonal and a little rude. Think of a phone call where someone called, said "the job is finished" (etc.) and hung up.

Feb 3, 2011 10:38 AM david david  says: in response to Jeff Urbanek


I totally agree.  When did common courtesy become the victim of "perceived" efficiency.   I find the trend of "one line emails" with no salutation or signature just plain rude.   I am sure others do as well.  It doesn't make good business sense to potentially offend people, especially our co-workers, partners and clients.



Feb 3, 2011 10:56 AM marcos castro marcos castro  says: in response to Jeff Urbanek

Mobsters have been communicating this way for years.

Feb 3, 2011 11:08 AM James James  says:

I find  not only e-mail composition a problem (transmitter), but also e-mail reading (receivers). Many people just skim e-mails because of time pressure (efficiency?). I find many people don't bother to read e-mails (even if prefaced with "Please read carefully" or "Confidential information"). 

There have been times when I included by BCC: people that were not directly involved in a discussion but felt they ought to be aware, though not invited to reply. Naturally, they didn't read the distribution list and replied to all ... I learned my lesson the hard way.


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