My Blog

My Email Dos and Don'ts

I’ve read many, many articles and had loads of people tell me the what they consider good and bad email habits, manners, etiquette etc. so below is a list of what I consider to be my dos and don’ts (if you see something here you disagree with or want to add more leave a comment).

Do

  • Be clear; make sure the recipient knows why they’re getting the message and what they’re expected to do with it.
  • Be concise; use short words and sentences. Period.
  • Use formatting; bullet points are good for actions, italics are good for context (i.e. adding so and so to the chain), color highlighting is good to draw attention.
  • Answer in line; if you’re answering a number of questions copy them and include them in your email message answering them underneath the relevant section. Use your initials and bold to indicate your answer.
  • Spell check; it’s such a distraction to find spelling errors and it detracts from your message, you're not sloppy now, are you?
  • Use To, CC and BCC; and use them properly. If you’re on the To line you need to take action or you really need to know this. If you’re on the CC line it’s information only, no action is required by you. If you're on the BCC line I want you to know, but I don’t want everyone else to know that you know or better still I’m dropping you from the To or CC line because you don’t need to be involved any more.
  • Write a great subject; such as ‘Background info on frozen food’ or ‘Details of yesterday’s shipments’.
  • Only write a subject; if you can, only use the subject line. If you can get this right then people will be really grateful. Make sure you add ‘-eom’ at the end though so they know they don’t need to open the mail. ‘Bob is looking for you and he looks really angry-eom’.
  • Use rules; this helps you to manage your inbox and send emails to the right place allowing you to focus on what’s important and needs your attention.
  • Use RSS feeds; most sites have RSS feeds and these can be a much better way of getting news and social updates than signing up to email lists.
  • Use an email alias; create an email address for giving out to sites and to use as your log-in ID. I don’t even have mine set-up on my iPhone instead I only review it using web mail once a week – much less distracting and much more efficient.
  • Use Outlook Quick Steps; They’re a huge step forward in managing email from assigning categories to creating tasks or calendar entries. I’ll discuss more on this later but in the meantime visit the Microsoft site to get you started.
  • Update the subject line; quite often an email chain will begin with one subject but then morph into something slightly different. Updating the subject is a good way of staying on top this. Oh, and don’t forget to get rid of all those re: fwd: re: at the start – it’s taking up way too much real estate in your inbox.
  • Use email signatures; most of us have email signatures set-up for new messages or for replies and forwards but did you ever think of using the same function to create standard phrases or responses you use most often? That way you can just select the different signature for the situation.

Don’t

  • Ramble on; get to the point and be quick about it – it’s an email not a novel.
  • Be lazy; forwarding huge strings of messages asking for others to action or comment isn’t helpful or productive – copy the relevant text into your message or at least highlight relevant sections.
  • Use recipient flags; it might seem like a good idea to have a message ping an alert to the recipient to reply to you but they’re really annoying and scream ‘I don’t trust you to do this properly’ – if you get your message right you’ll get what you need.
  • Spam; copying the world, his wife, dog, cat and goldfish doesn’t make you important – it’s just spam.
  • Mark everything as Urgent; it stops recipients from seeing what’s really important – remember the story about the boy who cried wolf? He got eaten, or something like that. Marking emails as Urgent is especially annoying for those on the CC list.
  • Say Thanks; completely at odds with everything your mother taught you but please don’t send me an email just to say ‘Thanks’ – you’re just creating more work for me! Buy me a coffee next time you're passing instead…
  • Keep replying; if you find yourself sending one line answers time and time again to the same thread pick up the phone, use Skype, instant messenger or whatever your organization uses, or even better, go speak to the person (admittedly difficult over long distances).
  • Get upset by wording; I know lot’s of people who have emails taken out of context or construed in a way the sender never intended. It’s difficult to get the balance right between brevity and friendly, deal with it.
  • Have a chat; if you want to chat, send me an invite and you can buy me a coffee. Emails are not for chatting.