E-mail Etiquette

Since starting work in Outlook, I have begun to think about the unwritten rules of e-mail etiquette and about how we could save each other a great deal of time, energy, and grief if we just did a little thinking before we hit the send button. Most recently, I have been thinking about how we could each do a lot to reduce the amount of e-mail that we send.

So before you send an e-mail think to yourself:

1.      What is the recipient going to do with this e-mail? Do they really need all  of these details? Are they just going to delete it on arrival?

2.      Do they really need to be involved? Sometimes, you think someone might be interested in your e-mail, so you plop them onto the CC line (it is just too easy.) Other times, you want to just let someone (or a couple of someones) know that you are handling an issue, – and then they receive all of the back and forth of the subsequent e-mails where they get to watch as you handle the issue. If they don’t need to be involved from the beginning, then don’t send the e-mail – let them know separately that you are handling it and that you will let them know the result. (and then let them know the result!)

3.      What are you asking of them? The more crisp you are, the more likely you are to get the response you want. If you ask a question in an e-mail that you are sending to more than one person and you don’t delegate a person to answer, you are less likely to get a response. Here’s a suggestion: when including multiple people in an e-mail put their names in bold next to the questions you want them to answer, and put each question on a separate line. Another tactic is to e-mail each person separately – you can’t get much more direct than that.

4.      Is this e-mail too long? Long e-mails make my head hurt. Basically, consider how the person receiving the e-mail will react to receiving and reading your long e-mail – if the e-mail is so long that they have to set aside time to read it, then expecting a quick response isn’t realistic. If you are asking many different people questions in one e-mail, break it up into separate e-mails. If the e-mail is really important, and you can’t make it any shorter, than make it clear up front what it is you want them to do and why they should read the rest of your e-mail. One tactic I have seen is bolding the important parts for easy skimming. It can make a long e-mail readable.

These questions all boil down to: Empathize with your recipients. If you empathize with your recipients, your e-mail etiquette will improve and you just might send less e-mail. (The tone one takes in an e-mail also makes a world of difference – but that is a whole other topic.) And when you are the recipient of unnecessary e-mail, delete it! Don’t let someone else’s bad habits cause you to have too much in your inbox.

I know I am guilty of violating the don’t send it if they don’t need it rule myself, but let’s all try to stop the cluttering of each other’s inboxes!

Comments (11)

  1. Thank you for this post. I thought this was a very timely. I was guilty of this rule in the past, as well; but have since learned to be more considerate of what I send my friends and relatives.

    As I point out my post, the same is true of documents that get created unnecessarily or forwarded – and then they sit in our inbox or worse on our hard drive. It’s time for us to be more responsible in this information age.

  2. Ryan M. says:

    Thanks for the great post. There is an Outlook 2007 issue I want to bring up that is ‘slightly’ tied to bad email etiquette. In the Beta 2 Outlook, Alt+E+S results in sending the email instead of bringing up the Paste Special dialogue. This has now resulted in me prematurely sending out an email 3 times now (old habits die hard). This is weird since every other office program and Outlook 2003 all use Alt+E+S as the paste special key combination.

  3. mmacbeth says:


    Thanks for writing. The Alt-E-S problem is something we are investigating presently. Thanks for the bug!


  4. Could you please let us now if there is a solution to this problem

  5. mmacbeth says:


    Which problem are you referring to?


  6. monique lenglet says:

    Could you please let us now if there is a solution to this problem : The Alt-E-S problem

  7. Colin Z says:

    Add me to the list of people who has sent (now 2) e-mails prematurely with Alt-E-S.