About email etiquette

Published on 02 Sep 2020

The other day I saw 40+ emails from a thread about a university class meeting the professor set up on Microsoft Teams for us. As it is an online university and this semester's class has over 1500 students, we were all CC'ed in this invite. It was scheduled in the morning, but many of us also have work obligations and thus cannot join. Instead of clicking on "Reply", many students ignorantly clicked on "Reply to all" which resulted in my email application stuttering to download all the emails when I opened it the following morning.


I detest this sort of blunder, simply because the person wishing to communicate with the sender neglected to think carefully about their next actions and included all of us in a completely irrelevant thread about how they do not have time and that their only opening is at 6pm after work. I do not care much for your schedule, nor do the rest of the group. We all have our own things to concern ourselves with. What benefit does this reply provide to us besides the fact that I too wasn't able to attend it at that time and thus felt some sense of solidarity by being left out?

The same thing happens at work sometimes. I include people in emails who don't need to be, but I thought they should be aware of what's happening with the related project. I sincerely apologise if I've done this to you before.

How can we stop being spammy while using email and improve our own email etiquette?

Email is not a chat application

I've made this mistake before, especially now while everyone is working remotely. Email should be considered as a formal communication method, with only the absolutely necessary details and instructions or questions. People do not have time to read novels.

We have many other instant chat applications and phones at our disposal, let's use those for what they were created for instead. Single line replies which are of no importance to the topic at hand and should be avoided, unless you confirm something.

I try to be thorough when constructing my reply, otherwise I do not even bother if it's of little impact. The vast amount of email being sent and received is overwhelming and by keeping your chatter to a minimum, we can save some server space too, although some plain text emails are really small.

Think carefully before you press that send button

We've probably all made the mistake of typing an email and hastily press the send button, realising you forgot to add something. Sometimes it's too late to recall it, so you go into "Sent items", open the email you just sent and forward it again to the same people, adding the thing you forgot. I used to do this sometimes, but after realising how irritating it was when people did it to me, I started reading through my email before sending it. It takes more time to do this, however it saves you a little in the future, as well as help you spot mistakes which could lead to misunderstandings.

I've seen professionals write the most unprofessional emails and it's frankly rather embarrassing. It reflects a lack of respect for yourself as well as the person you're communicating with. Maybe my standards are a little too high, but I've found that having higher standards results in higher quality work and treatment by most others. Who doesn't want that?!

Think carefully about who needs to see this email

Sometimes you'd click on reply to all, type an email and press send without thinking about the participants and relevance of the content of your email. Maybe you're in a hurry and don't have time.

I've sometimes resorted to "Ignore" the email thread when people include me in threads I know I am not required to participate nor if the info is really that relevant to me. Like sending a document to the proof reader for checking. Why am I included? I am only needed after the document has been checked and signed off. It clutters my mailbox, unnecessarily distracts me from my current task and is simply put, overloading me with information I don't need right now.

I suggest taking a little bit more time to consider who you include in the email thread, what the content of your email is and why the people included are included. It would be helpful as well to add why you're including them.

Be precise in your communication.

Unsubscribing is okay

Newsletters, spam, notifications from a plethora of apps we've registered for, Google sign-in notifications, etc. It's crazy how many emails we receive and in how many databases our details are stored. Kind of frightening too, because sometimes I forget for which service I've signed up or whatever newsletter I was interested in three years ago.

Spam is also a problem, but email hosts have improved their spam filtering significantly over the years, it's human ignorance and gullibility that persists and results in successful data breaches.

Almost all newsletters and services have an unsubscribe link at the bottom of their emails. I unsubscribe from most marketing emails, because I am rather scrooge-like these days in my spending, so I only buy things I feel I absolutely cannot live without. We're bombarded with advertising on a massive scale and it's up to you to take control of who gets your attention. So, go ahead, unsubscribe away.

Marketing is important for ANY business, but there has to be a limit to how many times a company tries to lure a customer in. People want some free shit too, so it's always nice if a newsletter contains a discount code or some sort of free ebook where I can learn something. Give something back for the attention you stole.

I hope I do not come across as some sort of email technocrat, which is by no means what I aim to be, however I simply want folks to be a little more mindful of their email behaviour.