What is email etiquette?

Email etiquette refers to a set of dos and don’ts that are recommended by business and communication experts in response to the growing concern that people are not using email effectively or appropriately. Email etiquette offers some guidelines that all writers can use to facilitate better communication between themselves and their readers. The following guidelines are appropriate:

  • Wait until your email message is completed before writing the To: addresses. This will reduce the chances of prematurely sending an incomplete or hastily considered email.
  • Do not write in all capital letters. It is generally interpreted as SHOUTING.
  • Be concise. Most people don’t enjoy reading from a computer screen. State your point as quickly as possible. Be sure to include all the important facts, but be brief. If you must send a long message, use sub-topic headings within your message.
  • Use spell check. No one wants to guess what is being said, they want it spelled out for them (correctly).
  • Do not send mail to a group when it is not necessary. We all hate spam and being involved in a conversation that does not pertain to us feels like spam. Send messages to people who need to hear what you are saying.
  • Write the subject of the email in the subject line. Writing “Hey”, “Hi”, or “Important info” in a subject line will often times cause the recipient to pass it off as spam. Write single-subject email messages whever possible and stick to the subject of your message. If the subject changes, change the subject line.
  • Never send an email when angry. Email can be forwarded and there are no “take backs.” Email does not show subtleties of voice or body language. If you receive a message that makes you angry, do not under any circumstances respond immediately! Wait awhile to cool off, and if possible, meet and talk face-to-face. Assume good intentions on the part of the sender. Be responsive, not reactive. Keeping the focus on facts and substance and away from opinion and emotion promotes clearer understanding. Keep in mind that sometimes an alternative form of communication is more appropriate than email.
  • Do not assume that email you send to someone is private. People often forward messages and read over each other’s shoulders.
  • Do not forward email unless it is appropriate to do so. Although this is convenient, it is not always appropriate. If you are unsure, ask the sender before forwarding the message.
  • Be sure to include a signature. Signatures that have a full name, title, department, phone number, and email address are most useful.
  • Do not put something in an email message that you would not want read by everybody. Even when you are careful, email can be misdirected or forwarded by the recipient.
  • If you get someone else’s message, let the sender know.
  • When replying to a message, be sure to look at the list of recipients. Email replies may go to more people than you realize.

Useful Links:

UW Guidelines for Using email

The Phenomenon of Flaming (Yale University Library)

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