email “subject” lines
it’s really best to have a subject line in an email. it’s good email etiquette. for anyone, not only myself, subject lines if filled out accurately can be very helpful to the end user, because it cuts down on having to search an email you’re looking for. one of my pet peeves is when a sender picks an email randomly and sends an email that has nothing to do with the subject of that email, just because they don’t want to take the time to fashion a proper email. i get many emails a day from client’s about different subjects. subject lines help me be a better manager of my time and my client’s time.
What are the etiquette rules?
There are many etiquette guides and many different etiquette rules. Some
rules will differ according to the nature of your business and the corporate
culture. Below we list what we consider as the 32 most important email
etiquette rules that apply to nearly all companies.
32 most important email etiquette tips:
Do not make an e-mail longer than it needs to be. Remember that reading
an e-mail is harder than reading printed communications and a long e-mail
can be very discouraging to read.
An email reply must answer all questions, and pre-empt further questions
– If you do not answer all the questions in the original email, you will
receive further e-mails regarding the unanswered questions, which will
not only waste your time and your customer’s time but also cause considerable
frustration. Moreover, if you are able to pre-empt relevant questions,
your customer will be grateful and impressed with your efficient and thoughtful
customer service. Imagine for instance that a customer sends you an email
asking which credit cards you accept. Instead of just listing the credit
card types, you can guess that their next question will be about how they
can order, so you also include some order information and a URL to your
order page. Customers will definitely appreciate this.
This is not only important because improper spelling, grammar and punctuation
give a bad impression of your company, it is also important for conveying
the message properly. E-mails with no full stops or commas are difficult
to read and can sometimes even change the meaning of the text. And,
if your program has a spell checking option, why not use it?
Not only should the e-mail be personally addressed, it should also
include personal i.e. customized content. For this reason auto replies
are usually not very effective. However, templates can be used effectively
in this way, see next tip.
Some questions you get over and over again, such as directions to your
office or how to subscribe to your newsletter. Save these texts as response
templates and paste these into your message when you need them. You
can save your templates in a Word document, or use pre-formatted emails.
Even better is a tool such as ReplyMate
for Outlook (allows you to use 10 templates for free).
Customers send an e-mail because they wish to receive a quick response.
If they did not want a quick response they would send a letter or a
fax. Therefore, each e-mail should be replied to within at least 24
hours, and preferably within the same working day. If the email is complicated,
just send an email back saying that you have received it and that you
will get back to them. This will put the customer’s mind at rest and
usually customers will then be very patient!
By sending large attachments you can annoy customers and even bring
down their e-mail system. Wherever possible try to compress attachments
and only send attachments when they are productive. Moreover, you need
to have a good virus scanner in place since your customers will not
be very happy if you send them documents full of viruses!
Since reading from a screen is more difficult than reading from paper,
the structure and lay out is very important for e-mail messages. Use
short paragraphs and blank lines between each paragraph. When making
points, number them or mark each point as separate to keep the overview.
We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf. If you overuse the
high priority option, it will lose its function when you really need
it. Moreover, even if a mail has high priority, your message will come
across as slightly aggressive if you flag it as ‘high priority’.
IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can
be highly annoying and might trigger an unwanted response in the form
of a flame mail. Therefore, try not to send any email text in capitals.
When you reply to an email, you must include the original mail in your
reply, in other words click ‘Reply’, instead of ‘New Mail’. Some people
say that you must remove the previous message since this has already
been sent and is therefore unnecessary. However, I could not agree less.
If you receive many emails you obviously cannot remember each individual
email. This means that a ‘threadless email’ will not provide enough
information and you will have to spend a frustratingly long time to
find out the context of the email in order to deal with it. Leaving
the thread might take a fraction longer in download time, but it will
save the recipient much more time and frustration in looking for the
related emails in their inbox!
It is important to add disclaimers to your internal and external mails,
since this can help protect your company from liability. Consider the
following scenario: an employee accidentally forwards a virus to a customer
by email. The customer decides to sue your company for damages. If you
add a disclaimer at the bottom of every external mail, saying that the
recipient must check each email for viruses and that it cannot be held
liable for any transmitted viruses, this will surely be of help to you
in court (read more about email
disclaimers). Another example: an employee sues the company for
allowing a racist email to circulate the office. If your company has
an email policy in place and adds an
email disclaimer to every mail that states that employees are expressly
required not to make defamatory statements, you have a good case of
proving that the company did everything it could to prevent offensive
A lot of people don’t bother to read an email before they send it out,
as can be seen from the many spelling and grammar mistakes contained
in emails. Apart from this, reading your email through the eyes of the
recipient will help you send a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings
and inappropriate comments.
Only use Reply to All if you really need your message to be seen by
each person who received the original message.
When sending an email mailing, some people place all the email addresses
in the To: field. There are two drawbacks to this practice: (1) the
recipient knows that you have sent the same message to a large number
of recipients, and (2) you are publicizing someone else’s email address
without their permission. One way to get round this is to place all
addresses in the Bcc: field. However, the recipient will only see the
address from the To: field in their email, so if this was empty, the
To: field will be blank and this might look like spamming. You could
include the mailing list email address in the To: field, or even better,
if you have Microsoft Outlook and Word you can do a mail merge and create
one message for each recipient. A mail merge also allows you to use
fields in the message so that you can for instance address each recipient
personally. For more information on how to do a Word mail merge, consult
the Help in Word.
In business emails, try not to use abbreviations such as BTW (by the
way) and LOL (laugh out loud). The recipient might not be aware of the
meanings of the abbreviations and in business emails these are generally
not appropriate. The same goes for emoticons, such as the smiley :-).
If you are not sure whether your recipient knows what it means, it is
better not to use it.
Remember that when you use formatting in your emails, the sender might
not be able to view formatting, or might see different fonts than you
had intended. When using colors, use a color that is easy to read on
Be aware that when you send an email in rich text or HTML format, the
sender might only be able to receive plain text emails. If this is the
case, the recipient will receive your message as a .txt attachment.
Most email clients however, including Microsoft Outlook, are able to
receive HTML and rich text messages.
Do not forward chain letters. We can safely say that all of them are
hoaxes. Just delete the letters as soon as you receive them.
This will almost always annoy your recipient before he or she has even
read your message. Besides, it usually does not work anyway since the
recipient could have blocked that function, or his/her software might
not support it, so what is the use of using it? If you want to know
whether an email was received it is better to ask the recipient to let
you know if it was received.
Biggest chances are that your message has already been delivered and
read. A recall request would look very silly in that case wouldn’t it?
It is better just to send an email to say that you have made a mistake.
This will look much more honest than trying to recall a message.
Do not copy a message or attachment belonging to another user without
permission of the originator. If you do not ask permission first, you
might be infringing on copyright laws.
Sending an email is like sending a postcard. If you don’t want your email
to be displayed on a bulletin board, don’t send it. Moreover, never make
any libelous, sexist or racially discriminating comments in emails, even
if they are meant to be a joke.
Try to use a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yourself.
For instance, when you send an email to a company requesting information
about a product, it is better to mention the actual name of the product,
e.g. ‘Product A information’ than to just say ‘product information’ or
the company’s name in the subject.
Try to use the active voice of a verb wherever possible. For instance,
‘We will process your order today’, sounds better than ‘Your order will
be processed today’. The first sounds more personal, whereas the latter,
especially when used frequently, sounds unnecessarily formal.
Even more so than the high-priority option, you must at all times try
to avoid these types of words in an email or subject line. Only use this
if it is a really, really urgent or important message.
Try to keep your sentences to a maximum of 15-20 words. Email is meant
to be a quick medium and requires a different kind of writing than letters.
Also take care not to send emails that are too long. If a person receives
an email that looks like a dissertation, chances are that they will not
even attempt to read it!
By sending or even just forwarding one libelous, or offensive remark
in an email, you and your company can face court cases resulting in multi-million
If you receive an email message warning you of a new unstoppable virus
that will immediately delete everything from your computer, this is most
probably a hoax. By forwarding hoaxes you use valuable bandwidth and sometimes
virus hoaxes contain viruses themselves, by attaching a so-called file
that will stop the dangerous virus. The same goes for chain letters that
promise incredible riches or ask your help for a charitable cause. Even
if the content seems to be bona fide, the senders are usually not. Since
it is impossible to find out whether a chain letter is real or not, the
best place for it is the recycle bin.
In this day and age, avoid using sexist language such as: ‘The user should
add a signature by configuring his email program’. Apart from using he/she,
you can also use the neutral gender: ”The user should add a signature
by configuring the email program’.
By replying to spam or by unsubscribing, you are confirming that your
email address is ‘live’. Confirming this will only generate even more
spam. Therefore, just hit the delete button or use email software to remove
Try not to use the cc: field unless the recipient in the cc: field knows
why they are receiving a copy of the message. Using the cc: field can
be confusing since the recipients might not know who is supposed to act
on the message. Also, when responding to a cc: message, should you include
the other recipient in the cc: field as well? This will depend on the
situation. In general, do not include the person in the cc: field unless
you have a particular reason for wanting this person to see your response.
Again, make sure that this person will know why they are receiving a copy.