Email Etiquette 101


It’s never too late to brush up on your email etiquette. Here are a few pointers.

1. Use the cc, bcc, and reply all functions appropriately. There is nothing worse than an email chain that has tons of people in the cc field where everyone can see. It gives away people’s privacy and often leads to other people replying at will. Always use the bcc field for mass emails, or choose a service like Mailchimp to manage your email list. Using cc is only appropriate when you specifically want the recipients to know who else was on the message. For example, if the boss sends an email to the whole program team. Don’t reply all with trivial responses like “Thanks” or “Great job” or “Congratulations.” It wastes people’s time sorting through and might bury important, substantive replies. Reply directly to the recipient individually if you want to send a short note.

2. Call when you have a long or sensitive issue to discuss. If you need to discuss something in depth or your email is going to be more than 3 paragraphs, just call the recipient or hold a meeting or conference call with those concerned. This is important because 1) you don’t want to send an angry tirade at length, and 2) it saves time for you and the recipients and is more interactive.

3. Spell correctly and use proper grammar. Remember when people used to write formal letters on paper? I sometimes wonder how our current communications will be displayed in museums in hundreds of years because everything used to be written on paper. Anyway, you should write your emails using proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Avoid sarcasm that might be misinterpreted and remember that your emails will never disappear and may be used against you. (see point #5).

4. Include your name, phone number, and email at the bottom. This step will make it easy for people to contact you in the future if they don’t have your business card or can’t remember your number. Also, it will allow people to be in touch with you even if you are slow on email replies or have a strong spam filter.

5. Use the Washington Post test. Don’t write anything in any email that would embarrass you if printed in the Washington Post. This includes negative or sarcastic comments about anyone, secret or private information, and personal items on business email accounts. Call or talk in person with your colleagues about sensitive or negative items so there is not a written record that could come back and haunt you, or be misinterpreted.

Technology helps us get work done more efficiently, but has many risks. Practice careful communications over email and you will do well in your career.

Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation