Mind Your Manners When Sending E-mails

Fall 2006 CSANews Issue 60  |  Posted date : May 30, 2007.Back to list

Now that e-mail messaging is the most dominant form of communication, it has been necessary for people to establish a set of informal online rules, often called “netiquette.” Although these rules mainly apply to business communication, it remains very important that all people communicating via e-mail adhere to some sort of e-mail“etiquette,” regardless of the nature of the e-mail.

One of the biggest problems with e-mails is that they are not accompanied by facial gestures or tone of voice. For this reason, e-mail messages can be greatly misinterpreted, as irony and humour are not easily expressed. Also, people are often more blasé when sending e-mails because the face-to-face interaction is bypassed, thereby creating an atmosphere in which some people may express certain thoughts or feelings that they would normally not communicate in a face-to-face situation.

Netiquette has evolved out of the need to control some of the inherent issues that arise with e-mail communication. Basically, netiquette embraces the common principles of courtesy, respect and ethics – the exact same principles that guide our behaviour when interacting with others in social situations

Adhering to netiquette is important if you want to project a professional and efficient image of yourself to the outside world. The next time you compose an e-mail, you may want to consider the following “rules” for proper e-mail etiquette:

  • Think carefully about your message before you hit“Send” – e-mails are permanent. Once you send an e-mail message, you cannot take it back or make it disappear. Also, refrain from making personal comments about third parties, as e-mails can potentially come back to haunt you.
  • Always be polite and respectful – even when you are angry or replying to an angry sender, don’t fall victim to“flame” e-mails (messages that are derogatory and attacking in nature). They serve absolutely no purpose.
  • Make sure that the subject line is relevant to the message – if you are sending an e-mail to someone you don’t know, an irrelevant or vague subject line, such as, “hello,” “please read” or“this is interesting,” normally does not convey the purpose of your message. It also has the potential of being deleted before being read, as spam e-mails often include vague subject lines.
  • Don’t write in capital letters – capital lettering throughout an e-mail message is considered shouting. Similarly, lowercase lettering throughout represents laziness.
    Be clear and concise – long, drawn-out e-mails lose the reader’s interest and do not effectively relay the point of your message.
  • Use plain text only – do not send e-mails using fancy fonts, colourful backgrounds or animated images. Many of these unnecessary features will appear as gibberish on the recipient’s computer.
    Be mindful of attachment sizes – sending very large files can wreak havoc on a recipient’s computer. Always check with the recipient before sending an attachment that is larger than one megabyte.
  • Don’t send chain-letters or money-making e-mails – these types of e-mails are normally hoaxes. By sending these messages, you are wasting the recipient’s time and filling their inbox with trash.
  • Use acronyms, abbreviations and emoticons sparingly – abbreviations, such as “LOL” (laugh out loud) or emoticons, such as the“smiley” :-) may not be understood by the recipient and are generally inappropriate in formal e-mails.
    Respond to e-mails in a timely manner – if possible, respond to e-mail messages within two days of receipt. As a common courtesy, don’t leave people waiting for a response.


To borrow a quote from Netmanners.com, “think of your e-mail as a serious communication tool, not an excuse to forget about being courteous or friendly.” Remember that once you hit“send,” your e-mail is gone forever. So take the time in advance to ensure that your messages will not have a negative impact upon the recipient(s). You’ll go much further in the long run.