Email Etiquette


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I am the proud Papa of 4 amazing children and my oldest is now using an iPad mini for most of his school work (the topic of a future blog). As such I have had to recently take the time to make sure he understands some of the basics of internet communication; safety, security and etiquette.  When I was 12 my biggest concern was the fact that my curly hair couldn’t do stamos that feathering thing or “is my voice going to squeak”, not learning the ins and outs of email etiquette. He is definitely growing up in a different world.

Believe it or not, email etiquette is a fairly important skill to master. Why you might ask?

There are a few key reasons that it is vital to work within the bounds of proper email etiquette.

Key Reason 1

Without the benefit of nonverbal elements, word choice becomes extremely paramount. First of all, most human communication can be broken down this way:

–  7 % of the meaning of message in our words (written or spoken)

–  93% of the meaning of the message through Body language, tone of
voice, Context…

That translates into an exponential increase in the importance & impact of the way you use and chose words in a communication media like email. For example, sarcasm, teasing, tension can all be understood without someone using those words…if you can see or hear that person. But the moment you remove body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, the message receiver is left with not much else to go on to understand the message except for the words in the email.

Key Reason 2

A second consideration is context: the way you use words in an email. Some words fit a situation, some don’t. Some words fit…but should be avoided because they not only define a meaning, but the color the message with tone. Tone is the written word’s equivalent to body language. For example, say I wished to communicate to the HR department that certain foods that fellow office mates are bring in have an odor that is distracting (a nice way to sat awful!) Here is an example of an email with less than perfect word choice:


Although I do not theologically hold to the doctrine of “Purgatory”, my experiences over the past 3 team meetings has felt like an eternity spent there. This is because Dick continues to bring his homemade KimchiGoulash. The disgusting odor is the essence of putrefaction and causes unending suffering for every person in the room!!!
You have to do something about this!!!

Let’s take a moment and look at what is wrong with this email. Look at the image below and then refer to the corresponding number for some corrective insight.


  1. Any crack or potential put down upon spiritual issues almost always ends poorly for those of us in a corporate setting. People’s spirituality should not be used in a denigrating manner. It’s not funny, it’s disrespectful, and bad taste all around.
  2. Try to avoid negative adjectives as much as possible. Set a positive tone in your email messages, it always get closer to your desired response
  3. #s 3. 4., & 5. are all exaggerations. Exaggeration not only damages your credibility, it will also deaden the impact of the message. If everything appears extreme nothing is extreme.

Here is an example of the same issue, different, more effective email:

I have a request for change in the format of our team meetings. May we limit the food at the meeting? I have found the mix of odors to be distracting for me even after the meal. Thanks for considering my request. Feel free to contact me in person to discuss this issue.

Key Reason 3

Remembering to follow the rules of email etiquette makes your email easy to read. Bottom line is this; if your email is pleasant to read, it is much more likely to evoke a positive result. The message you send will be more accessible to the receiver and you will receive your desired result. Ignoring email etiquette and you run the risk of miscommunication and appearing like a dolt.

Aside from your word choice and use, here are a few actions you can perform on your end to ensure you are following proper email etiquette.

Don’t forget the attachments
Everybody is capable of making mistakes…how about you “not” be that person who usually forgets to actually attach the attachments. I am guilty of this foible.

Set up Auto-Spell Check
spcheckIn Outlook you can easily enough set the spell check to function automatically before each message is mailed out. While in Outlook go to your in box, click on the tools button, and click on Options.

From there a box will open up with different tabs, click on the Spelling tab (see image). Once you are here check in the box that says “Always check spelling before sending.” Then click on the O.K. button

Include a Subject in the Subject Line
Do you really need me to explain this to you? O.K. I will. It will let the receiver know what the message is about and helps you clearly communicate your intentions/message. This is one of my Achilles Heel’s. I get going too ding dang fast and forget to attach the attachment.

Give a ReplyAlways.
Acknowledge promptly that you received a message. If no particular response is required, just say “thanks.” If you own an “action item” but can’t get to it for a while, let the sender know you saw the message and estimate when you expect to reply. But don’t let mail pile up in your inbox without acknowledging its receipt.

Bottom line up front.
Don’t waste your recipient’s time. Be direct and clear about the point of the email right away, and then give additional context. Don’t make people slog through 258 words of back-story before they find the main point/action item.

Lose the Emoticons.
They make you look unprofessional or silly…c’mon!

Know the Corporate Cultural.
Ask someone who knows (boss, co-worker, friend…) about the culture –what’s acceptable. Most of these actions can have exceptions. Learn the specific etiquette of your own company/audience –. Some businesses want to minimize email and frown on emails containing docs or photos. They may wish for you to save these items in a shared folder for other to be able to access on their own, without taking up storage space on each computer HD. Others like a lighter tone and encourage emoticons. The basics of good communication shouldn’t change; outside of that you will have to do some research on your own about what is and isn’t acceptable. There are rarely one-size fits all solutions in the world of corporate communication.