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E-mail Etiquette

Posted on July 26, 2006

By Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Quick, immediate, now, instant.  This is what is expected or demanded in our day-to-day business response time.  No longer can we say “I’ll be back to you with that answer in a few days.”  By then ten other competitors would have filled that order, book the convention, completed the RFP and moved on to other deals.

No matter where you are, what time zone you may be in, day of the week or hour of the night, people e-mail and they expect an immediate response.  I am truly wondering if people sleep at all let alone the recommended seven to eight hours.  We have evolved into a fast-paced, no downtime society.  We must be better, provide ROI (return on investment) instantly, reach that competitive edge, and be a step ahead and all of those terms that move us up the ladder of success or to stay ahead of the game.  With that comes checking our e-mails constantly.  We do not want to miss anything.  But with that also comes rudeness to the person beside us during a meeting, a meal, on a plane or during a conversation.  Is it so bad to respond a few hours later?  I agree in a less than 24-hour response time but we don’t have to be addicted to our electronic devices especially when we should be watching our child’s soccer game or visiting with our family over a meal. 

Some e-mail guidelines:

  1. Watch the length. It is said that if your message is more than 2/3 of the computer screen it needs to go into an attachment. Also watch your attachments. Think of sending several attachments if they contain a lot of material.
  2. Watch those emotional signs. I love to receive a happy face to make me smile but would you send out a formal letter and then put emotional signs throughout the letter. I hope not. If the e-mail is to a friend and you are just chatting, then go with all the signs you want. You can even have them dancing across the bottom of your screen.
  3. Watch colors and diagrams or logos on your e-mails. You are wasting the receiver’s time, ink and energy to download a six-color logo at the bottom of each of your e-mails. 
  4. Provide a “grabber” for the subject line. With all the virus problems and people receiving hundreds of e-mails daily, you want your e-mail subject line to catch their attention so they open it. Now, the body of your letter needs to be related to the subject line. You just can’t get their attention so they open your message and the body of the letter is totally different or not even slightly related.
  5. Bullet points: Get to the point. Put the most important point right in the start of your e-mail. Don’t make them read and read to get to the bulk of important points. They may miss them or delete before they ever get there. Keep your points short and direct.
  6. Respond to only the necessary people: If you receive a question or a statement to you and 20 other people do not respond back to all of those people. If the person would like a response than only go back to that one person. Don’t tie up the e-mail with useless responses or material to everyone on the list. Better to send all the names in the bcc format so you are not releasing e-mail addresses to everyone. 
  7. Read through all e-mails from the same person. Check all your e-mails before going back to the person to ask questions after you read only one of his e-mails. 
  8. When you send out an e-mail is this something that could be sent on a postcard? E-mails can be viewed, sent, and resent to the world. Make sure your message was not personal or confidential in nature that could be viewed by the wrong people. 
  9. Signature line: Always provide a signature line. I don’t mean your name in cursive. But provide your name, title, company, address, phone, fax, e-mail and Web site. Don’t make people have to search to respond. Make it easy to work with you.

Happy e-mails.


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Joan Eisenstodt

What wonderful advice, Colleen! So pleased you are this week's guru - and hope that others will read your words of wisdom. We could use a bit more civility and good manners in our world.

Katie Brannan

I love the reminder "When you send out an e-mail is this something that could be sent on a postcard?" This is so important and I am constantly surprised at what people will tell me in a "professional" email.

I love email, however, at my last position I had a blackberry and, while not as bad as some, I would check it a lot (often because boss expected me to respond even at 9pm on Saturday night). In my new position I don't have a blackberry and haven't (intentionally) figured out how to check my email from home. It has surprisingly made me a bit clamer in my personal life and hopefully the people who have to wait a day to get my responses don't mind.

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