Email Etiquette Guidelines

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Sending and receiving email isn't rocket science, but there are still some things that people just cannot remember.  Here are 10 things to keep in mind when dealing with email.

1.  TO: | CC: | BCC:

The TO field is pretty self-explanatory.  Email addresses that are entered here will receive the email and everyone will be able to see everyone that is listed in the TO field

CC stands for carbon copy.  Email addresses that are “cc’d” will get the email but they are not considered to be the main recipients of the email.  It’s like you’re telling those cc’d, “Hey, FYI*, but I don’t expect you to reply back but you could if you wanted.”  Anyone who receives the email will see all email addresses in the CC field.

BCC stands for blind carbon copy.  Similar to CC, anyone bcc’d will receive the email but are not expected to necessarily reply back. In fact, BCC is often used because anyone who receives the email will not see email addresses that are in the BCC field.  It’s a way of protecting a person’s email address from others, especially when sending an email to a large group.

Basically, you want to use the BCC when sending emails to large groups to protect the emails of the group members or to send an email to someone and hide the fact that you included that person in the email. Don’t, I beg of you, don’t use the TO or CC fields when sending to large groups.  It is more than annoying when someone essentially gives out your email address without your permission. Big no-no.  Another no-no is to BCC others on emails intended for specific people because you’re trying to be sneaky or deceptive. Don’t abuse the concept of BCC.

2.  Write a Decent Subject Line

This is something everyone hates to do especially for professional emails but is important regardless of what kind of email you send.  This could be the difference between having your email read or skipped.  Simply writing “Hi or Hello” can also have your email marked as possible junk mail.

A good subject line will give the reader an idea of what the email is about and will help if they search for it days, weeks, or months later.  For example if I sent my editor an email about this post, I might use a subject line like: Email Etiquette Post for April 10 or April 10 Post Ready for Editing.

3.  Include a Synopsis at the Top if Your Email is Long

Don’t take it personal, but people just don’t like to read long emails. However, sometimes you don’t have a choice but to send one.

The truth of the matter is that if people see a long email, chances are they will either skim through it or not read it at all.  To still get your message across, at the top of your email, include a brief synopsis of what you want them to take from your message. In the synopsis, include any important dates or to do’s they’re supposed to get.  You could also bold or highlight important things in your emails for those who skim the message. Similar to how the important things in this post are in bold, italics and / or large font.

4.  Before Forwarding an Email, Format!!!

If you have to forward an email to someone else, please take the time to format the message, especially if it is an email that has already been forwarded several times already.  Nobody wants to have to scroll through screen after screen just to get to the message or picture of the cute bears.

Remove the extra-forwarded information especially if it includes the email addresses of others. Make it easy for your email recipients to read the message.

5.  Reply Back to Emails

No one expects a person to reply back to forwards. But if an email asks you directly for a response, please give the courtesy of replying back. Unless otherwise noted in the email, try not to let 24-48 hours go by without responding. The least you could do is reply back and let them know you got their message but will reply back more fully later.  This isn't a do or die rule, but it is a courteous one.  If you get into the habit of this with your personal emails, it will carry over into your professional emails where 24 hours is the general expected turnaround time.

BONUS: Avoid Reply to All

One of the biggest complaints people have when receiving email is the use of the “Reply All” button. If you are on the receiving end of an email that has 20 other people in the TO and CC field, you probably cringe when you see that because you know the odds are that someone will unknowingly click “Reply All.” If it’s a message to which everyone needs a response then by all means, reply all.  But when it’s a message telling the sender congratulations on their new home well, maybe the “Reply” button is more appropriate. After all, those 20 other people didn't buy the home, did they? That’s just a simplified example; the point is keep the replies to those who need to read them.  Believe me that everyone else will appreciate it.

Easiest solution…. use BCC when sending an email like that. That way if someone accidentally clicks “Reply All” then only those in the TO and CC field will receive the message.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of email etiquette guidelines, but they are some of the more important ones.  Share it with those you know, especially those who break any of these rules.  Spread Email Etiquette Awareness.

*FYI – for your information

You Ought to Know: Email Etiquette

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