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16 Email Mistakes You Must Avoid: Email Etiquette

Poor email etiquette. You’re a victim of it and a guilty criminal. From unknown abbreviations, forwarded chain emails, and unwanted messages, bad email etiquette is a hidden social crime I’m here to purge from society.

Horrifying Statistics of Email Etiquette

The number of untrained email users is staggering. Former Chief Solutions Officer of Yahoo! Tim Sanders estimates that 90% of business communication is email based and only 10% of email users receive adequate training. The statistics now get nasty.

According to market research firm Radicati Group, 89 billion business emails were sent per day in 2012. There is expected to be 3.8 billion email accounts by 2014. This means an estimated 3.42 billion email accounts will be owned by people untrained in email come 2014.

Your workplace and business likely suffers from poor email etiquette. It isn’t getting better anytime soon unless you do something about it with the rules of email etiquette in this article.

Good Netiquette

Email etiquette, broadly referred to as “netiquette”, defines the rules of email communication. Netiquette is important because an email sent cannot be retrieved. You cannot reach through the computer cables to retrieve an email to your boss in a regretful emotional out-lash where you swore to destroy his dictatorship.

Netiquette is more than writing a grammatically correct email to a friend. It builds clarity, understanding, and productivity in everyday email communication. From having the right mindset when seated to sending an email, here are the most important email etiquette rules to follow so you’re one (or many) of the 380 million email account owners in 2014 that know what to do in their inbox:

1. Control emotional emails. Do not send an email when you are angry. You could say things you later regret and the receiver of your little outburst will have a record that could be used against you. Many careers have been destroyed from angry emails. Your email may appear okay as you compose it, but let time clear your mind so you don’t regret clicking the “send” button.

I also recommend you re-read your email to check for sentences, phrases, and words that can be interpreted another way to your main intent. You may come off as rude when you try to be nice. A simple joke you think is funny may offend someone because they misinterpreted the joke. The lack of nonverbal communication in email makes it a poor medium to communicate emotion.

The lack of nonverbal communication in email makes it a poor medium to communicate emotion.

2. Provide the right amount of information. People waste too much time browsing their inbox the way it is without having to read long messages. Do humanity a favor by keeping your emails short. Cut the fat.

You still need to provide all the information upfront when possible. It is frustrating and time-consuming to ask questions for more information that could have been provided in the initial email.

3. Format it right. You don’t need to be a geek to use this rule. HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is used to make websites look pretty. Making text bold or (what you think is) pretty in email uses HTML. When you copy and paste emails from websites, you may also unknowingly copy the HTML code across.

When you format an email, the email may look different when someone receives it. Just like in face-to-face conversations, the message sent is not the message received. Some email programs are not HTML compatible so when they receive HTML emails, weird HTML code might show and other formatting issues may occur.

Simply provide a website link if you are going to copy an entire web page. If you want to copy snippets of information, not only do you risk breaking copyright laws, but at your discretion you can copy the text across to a text-file program (such as Notepad, not Microsoft Word) then copy the text from there into your email program. Copying text to a text-file program removes HTML to prevent weird formatting issues.

4. Should you reply to all?. It is frustrating to receive emails from group members who simply say “Yes, I can come” or “No” when you do not need to receive them. Stop being lazy. Take the small amount of time to address your email to the specific people your email is intended for.

5. Do not forward to all. I am a big victim of this email mistake! If you subscribe to my newsletter, you are advised to add me to your address book or whitelist to help my emails reach your inbox. With tens of thousands of subscribers, I am in many people’s address book. Subscribers often receive an email then forward it to everyone in their address book. The result for me is a daily cleanup of forwarded emails containing stories, quotes, and cute kittens.

Chain emails are so annoying! The next time you get an email with a poem, story, or series of images you love, keep them to yourself. A lovely story about patience you forward to friends may infuriate them.

6. Keep people’s email addresses hidden. It is rude to send an email to several people making their email address visible in the “To” box. Unless the recipients know each other and are comfortable sharing their email addresses, avoid this mistake. Use the Bcc (blind carbon copy) function of emails to hide recipients’ email addresses. The Bcc function ensures everyone receives the email and makes it look addressed to the specific individual.

7. Save the message thread. Not having the replied message in the sent message is the face-to-face equivalent of being bashed across the head and forgetting what was discussed in the conversation. Based on many emails I receive everyday, I estimate 30% of people do not attach their replied message. I easily forget what was sent in an email someone replied to because I frequently have discussions with multiple people at the same time.

Make it easy for people to know what you talk about by ensuring their message you reply to is attached. Google’s email service, Gmail, is great at keeping track of past messages. Be sure to change your email settings so that messages you reply to get included in your reply.

8. Be smart with your abbreviations. Friend to friend or family member to family member, the use of abbreviations is up to you. Problems arise when abbreviations in workplace emails make you appear unprofessional. If an abbreviation is used in the industry and the recipient knows what it means, use it otherwise abstain from abbreviations. Here is a useful video on email etiquette I thought you might find interesting:

A three minute Fox Providence presentation discussing email etiquette. It focuses on professionalism by avoiding abbreviations.

9. Avoid unknown abbreviations. AFAIK 404 but I’ll POAHF because I TILII. Do you know what that means? Very few people do. It means: As far as I know I have no clue, but I’ll put on a happy face because I tell it like it is.

Good email etiquette avoids unknown abbreviations. What seems apparent to you might confuse the recipient of your email. How would you like it if a friend sent you an email with ADO, YOOAD, WWMT, and other weird abbreviations? (I just made those last few 🙂 ) You would feel annoyed at having to clarify something the person should realize in the first place.

10. Pick the right subject heading. If you leave the subject field empty or simply put “Re:” in the field, you avoid an important function of email communication. Your goal in personal emails is not to write the most captivating subject heading so people open your email. Write an honest and specific subject heading that reflects your email message. Instead of writing “HELP!!” to your telecommunications company, you could write “Help Needed With Phone Wires”. If I deem a subject heading is important, I can take up to 5-minutes to think of a good subject.

11. Send at a suitable time. Be weary of the time you send your email. This etiquette rule depends on a few things. Firstly, with the worldwide connectivity and never-ending discussion over the Internet, it matters little what time you send an email to someone in a different time zone. Secondly, some people do not care what time you send your email as they only care about reading what you have to say.

Be careful of the time you send emails to people such as coworkers, managers, and clients. A job candidate’s email containing a resume sent to the human resources department at 3am looks bad in the inbox. Good luck acing an interview or even getting one because of this mistake. Send an email at another time if you think the recipient will judge you poorly based on the time you send it.

Top 3 Mistakes by ToP Subscribers

I get a lot of bad emails from subscribers to my newsletter. I don’t reply to most of them because I don’t have the time and they obviously didn’t put in the time to write a good email. If they don’t care, I don’t care. Please avoid these top three email mistakes the next time you contact me or anyone else:

  • “Send me info about communication.” No one will help you if you are so vague.
  • “I have a prob wit my gf”. Language like this is fine with friends but rude to people you hardly know. Write in the English language!
  • “CAN YOU HELP ME WITH MY PARTNER?” Excessive capitalization scares me and is hard to read.
Typing in capitals is the digital equivalent of yelling in someone’s face.

12. Excessive Capitalization. IT IS CONSIDERED RUDE TO TYPE IN CAPITALS. Typing in capitals is the digital equivalent of yelling in someone’s face. Hopefully, you would not yell in someone’s face so do not do it in the digital world. On the other end of the spectrum, do not type all your text in lower case. It is simple grammar.

13. Spell check. I am guilty of this a few times and have been pulled up by the grammar police for teaching communication and misspelling words. (Apparently I am not allowed to misspell words!) Spell check your formal emails. Most email providers and even web browsers provide the option to spell check. If your email service or web browser does not have a spell checker, copy your email into a word editing document to spell check it.

14. Use attachments the right way. Any email attachment over one mega byte (approximately 1000KB) is pushing email etiquette rules. Not everyone has broadband or cable, and these people do not want to spend 5 minutes downloading an unnecessary file. For large attachments, you are better off using file upload services such as Mega File Upload and 2shared. With these services, you upload a file to their website and they give you a link you can send to others where they can download the file.

Another rule for email attachments is to consider the format of your attachment. Not everyone can open a file with the .odt extension.

15. Do not request delivery and read receipts. Delivery and read receipts is an old feature in email programs. The feature lets you send an email and have the recipient confirm it was received. You are notified with an email that the person received your email if the person confirms.

The feature is an unreliable way to check if someone receives your email. It also adds more clutter to an already busy inbox. In most cases, you don’t need to know if an email was received because modern technology with email deliverability is good.

If you need to check whether your email was received, ask the person in your email to reply saying they got your message. If your message is really that important, which it rarely is over email, maybe you should phone the person. Do not blame the recipient of your email for a problem you can control.

16. Write. Send. Edit. That is obviously in the wrong order if you follow good email etiquette. By the time you click the “Submit” button, you should be confident in not having to read what you sent. Get this common email mistake in the right order: 1) Write, 2) Edit, and 3) Send. Wow! Done.

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Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"

Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to https://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/

Comments

Manoj Kr. Nanda
Reply

Dear Joshua,

I am teacher in Communication Skills and my specialization is also Professional Writing.

I don’t have words to say thanks for all that you have mentioned. It’s always a good experience to learn from. today I am going to give a print-out of all this to my students.

I would be more than glad to see your mail in my inbox everyday.

Thanks and regards
Manoj Kr. Nanda
Lecturer in English
The technological Instt of Textile and Sciences
Bhiwani,
Haryana,
India.

Ahmed Abubaker
Reply

Thanks a lot Joshua. I have read some email etiquette points before, but yours are more comprehensive. I especially like the ones about attachments, poor subject heading and excessive capitalization. Great job.

Agwaramgbo
Reply

Thanks Joshua for your remarks because we never know our faults until someone points it out to us. This is a good remark and I believe people should take notice.

Abdul Mannan
Reply

Dear Joshua,
Each and every article of yours has been great, so is this. I have been doing at least 14 of such mistakes unconsciously. Thanks for this, going forward I am not gonna repeat any. God bless you.

Is there any article which talks about gaining or regaining lost reputation in the workplace? Please reply me if there is any.

Thanks and regards,
Abdul.

Shweta
Reply

Hi Joshua,

I have been receiving your mails on good communication and they are really helpful. Thanks so much! We all think we know everything there is about emails but most of us often wind up committing the same mistakes over and over again. Thanks again for compiling this useful list. 🙂

Ubong
Reply

I have often wondered what use the teaching of language and grammar in schools serves if people continue such horrible habits as you mentioned. This applies not just to e-mail messages but is really much worse if you have a mobile phone and receive short messages or text on them. Thumbs up for your article. It would be lovely to see what change, if any, such awareness would stimulate among people once the message spreads.

Priyanka
Reply

Thanks Joshua for always being an unseen mentor.

Always eagerly waiting for your mails.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Pat
Reply

Hey Joshua, man thanks for those tips especially the Bcc, always wondered how I could “hide” people’s addresses.

Daniel
Reply

Thumbs up Joshua. I’m gonna send this link to my colleagues! BCC of course. TIP, but you already know that, create a contact in your contact list called Undisclosed Recipients, send a distributed message to that contact and Bcc your distribution list recipients! don’t forget to include a post scriptum indicating that you sent a distributed mail message. This way you can keep your colleagues or peers’ email address private!

Kavitha Sridhar
Reply

🙂

Dear Joshua, Cheers!

The article was interesting and useful for our daily mail routines.

I had a thought of attending the training session but unfortunately because of workload I was not able to turn up and got upset too.

But now this article had given me a plenty of information. I feel I had learned something new thing today and it’s going to change my style of EMAILs from now.

Thanks a ton and keep doing the great work…

Regards
Kavitha Sridhar

Gilbert
Reply

Hi Joshua.
Thanks for exposing many mistakes we make everytime we
send emails.

Elle
Reply

Great article! I am hoping you can expand at some point on bcc’s. We have had a lot of problems with them here in the work place. I don’t think it is ever a good thing to use this option as a way of covering yourself. I have seen it backfire too many times. Besides, it’s sneeky. If you have good commmuncation in your workplace, there is no need for bcc’s. One of our ethics people at work spoke about this negatively as well.

Arvind
Reply

“Not everyone can open a file with the .odt extension.”

Why not? Are you saying following netiquette also makes it mandatory to buy Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows?

Sam
Reply

This design is wicked! You definitely know how to keep a reader amused.

Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

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