How to be Less Annoying Over Email: A Complete Etiquette Guide

Leah Bourne
email etiquette guide

Photo: HBO

We live in an age when you’re judged by what you send. The e-mails you blast out can mean the difference between whether you get a job, make a good impression on a client, and even how you maintain friendships.

Given that most people spend a huge chunk of their day either sending e-mails or reading them, it’s pretty shocking that we communicate online in ways we’d never dream of doing in real life—like addressing someone entirely in abbreviations or labeling a conversation as important when it’s about deciding what movie to see. Yes, bad e-mail etiquette can be just as annoying, if not more so, than bad in-person etiquette.

MORE: A Complete Guide to Crop Top Etiquette

With that in mind, here are eight e-mail etiquette tips to keep in mind at all times. Tattoo them on your arm, memorize them, do whatever you have to do, so you aren’t that annoying person who constantly hits “reply all” on every single correspondence.

1. Know your audience.
A good rule of thumb is to write with the person you’re emailing in mind. If you’re sending a note to someone who’s fairly formal, follow their lead. The same goes for a person who’s much more casual. Your e-mail greeting and sign-off should be consistent with the level of respect and formality of the person you’re communicating with, too.

2. Get to the point—quickly.
For the most part, long e-mails don’t work. Write concisely, with plenty of paragraph breaks, so your message isn’t one huge chunk of text. When you look at what you’re sending, make sure it doesn’t look like a burden to read, and feel free to use bullet points. State the purpose of the e-mail in the first two sentences.

3. Write like an adult.
You want to avoid using shortcuts to real words, emoticons, and slang. Seriously, do you really want to put “4 u” in place of “for you” in a business e-mail?

4. Is it really high priority?
Let’s face it, the high priority option on e-mails is simply overused. Evaluate the importance of your e-mail, and don’t use it unless absolutely necessary.

5. Watch copy and reply all.
Send or copy others only on a need-to-know basis. Before you click “Reply All” or put names on the Cc or Bcc lines, ask yourself if all the recipients really need the information in your message. If they don’t, why send it to a huge group?

6. Perfect your subject line.
Avoid subject lines that are in all caps, all lower case, and those that include URLs and overt punctuation. Also don’t be afraid to change your subject line to match the message during the correspondence.

7. Ask before sending huge attachments.
Provide a warning when sending large attachments—you don’t want to un-intentionally clog the receiver’s inbox causing other important e-mails to bounce. As a general rule, if you’re sending something that is over 500KB, you should ask, “Would you mind if I sent you an attachment?”

8. Always include your signature.
You never want someone to have to look up how to get in touch with you. If you’re social media savvy, include all of your handles, too.

9. Be prompt in your response.
As a general rule you have between 24 to 48 hours to respond to an e-mail. To the same point, don’t necessarily expect a response from a recipient before then.

10. Above all, watch what you say.
Always remember that e-mail correspondence lasts forever. It’s not the place to send super-personal information to someone, or to disclose confidential information, no matter how tempting it might be.

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