Here are some guidelines to help you communicate better and more efficiently with email — and avoid mistakes!
- Use email the way you want others to use it.
Remember that a human being (just like you) is at the other end reading your email, and don’t write anything you wouldn’t say face to face.
- Be careful when addressing email.
Know to whom you are sending, and be careful using CC’ed addresses.
- Email should have a subject heading which reflects the content of the message.
Think of your subject line as the headline of an important news article. Make sure the subject line relates to the message content.
- Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive.
You should not send heated messages (“flames”) even if you are provoked. Take another look before you send the message, and reread and reconsider the entire message, also from the recipient’s perspective, before you send it.
- Consider the recipient’s background.
Remember that the recipient is a human being whose culture, language, and humor have different points of reference from your own. Remember that date formats, measurements, and idioms may not travel well. Be especially careful with sarcasm.
- Wait overnight to send emotional responses to messages.
If you have really strong feelings about a subject, indicate it via FLAME ON/OFF enclosures. For example:
FLAME ON: This type of argument is not worth the bandwidth it takes to send it. It’s illogical and poorly reasoned. The rest of the world agrees with me.
- Be brief without being overly terse.
When replying to a message, include enough original material to be understood but no more. It is extremely bad form to simply reply to a message by including all the previous message: edit out all the irrelevant material.
- Use the inverted pyramid form of writing.
Your most important statements should appear in the first paragraph. Follow up with supporting details. Keep paragraphs short for easy reading, and use sub-topic headings within your email message if it is lengthy.
- When in doubt, send plain text messages, not HTML.
Not everybody can receive your fancily formatted emails, and some may even react furiously due to the size and formatting of the message.
- Forward messages as you received them.
If you are forwarding or re-posting a message you’ve received, do not change the wording.
- Avoid sending chain letters via email.
Sending chain letters is prohibited by many email providers, including Runbox, Yahoo, and Comcast. Chain emails are often hoaxes (see snopes.com) and may contain computer viruses, and is generally a waste of bandwidth and time.
- Use mixed case.
UPPER CASE LOOKS AS IF YOU’RE SHOUTING.
- Use symbols for emphasis.
“That *is* what I meant.” Use underscores for underlining. “_War and Peace_ is my favorite book.”
- Use smileys to indicate tone of voice, but use them sparingly.
🙂 is an example of a smiley (look sideways). Don’t assume that the inclusion of a smiley will make the recipient happy with what you say or wipe out an otherwise insulting comment. 😉
- If you include a signature, keep it short.
Rule of thumb is no longer than 4 lines.
- Apply common sense “reality checks” before assuming a message is valid.
Just as email may not be private, email is subject to forgery and spoofing of various degrees of detectability.
- Consider the cost of receiving a message.
The cost of delivering an email message is, on the average, paid about equally by the sender and the recipient (or their organizations). This is unlike other media such as physical mail, telephone, TV, or radio. Sending someone email may also cost them in other specific ways like network bandwidth, disk space or CPU usage. This is a fundamental economic reason why unsolicited email advertising is unwelcome (and is forbidden in many contexts).
- Know how large a message you are sending.
Including large files may make your message so big that it cannot be delivered. Consider file transfer or sharing as an alternative, or cutting the file into smaller chunks and sending each as a separate message.
- Don’t send large amounts of unsolicited information or attachments to people.
It is inconsiderate, especially if the recipient uses an email client on a slow connection.
- Beware the dreaded forwarding loop.
Be sure you haven’t set up forwarding so that a message sent to you gets into an endless loop from one address to the next and back.
For more advice on email netiquette: