5 Tips to Fix Your Annoying Email Etiquette

5 Tips to Fix Your Annoying Email Etiquette

I was digging through my inbox, looking for an email from a client the other day. I have about 20,000 emails in my inbox right now, so finding one can be a little daunting depending on when the email arrived, who it was from, and what it was in regards to. Before you ask, no, I don’t use folders. My Mail search function is good enough that I don’t need them any more, unless your email etiquette sucks. Which is exactly why I was having trouble finding this particular message. I was searching by subject and this email didn’t have one.

It turns out that a lot of people don’t understand email etiquette, or maybe they just don’t care. Bottom line is that email is a huge part of our communication and it should be taken seriously. Emailing a customer? You’d better be sure you’re communicating professionally and effectively. The expectations you set and the perception you’re helping to create depend on it.

Below are my top five email etiquette annoyances and what you can do to avoid them.

I Don’t Know Who This Email is To

Have you ever received an email from someone that had more than one person in the To: field, but nobody was addressed in the body?

If you’re asking for something, or looking for a response, be sure to address only one person and then personally address them in the body of the email as well. Messages that are sent to more than one person without specific identification of who it was intended for often end up in a special folder called the Trash.

Also, don’t carbon copy 15 other people on your email. I will only reply to you…or I’ll cc 15 more people and make you look even dumber for writing the email in the first place.

I Don’t Know What This Email is About

We all get a lot of email. Processing it into specific places (I use a system I’ll detail in a later post) is key to staying on top of that endless inbox stream. When you don’t include a subject line in your email, it makes it harder for me to process and find later on.

Inaccurate or overly general subjects are also bad. Titling your email, “Update” doesn’t really help me identify what the email is about. That would be like me titling this post “New Article.” You wouldn’t be reading this if I’d titled it that way. Same thing holds true for email.

Someone sent me an email the other day that was titled (in caps), “HELP!!! SOFTWARE PROBLEM!!!” Perfect example of a terrible email subject. I already know you need help; you wouldn’t be emailing me if you didn’t. Using all caps, multiple exclamation points, and a subject line that does nothing to describe your issue are all very good ways to get moved to the bottom of my priority list.

When I finally did get to that email I found out that it wasn’t a software problem, but a user problem. I replied back with a simple solution and changed the email subject to, “I’M HELPING YOU WITH YOUR USER PROBLEM!!!!!!” Ok, I didn’t, but I really wanted to.

It Looks Like a Fairy Crapped All Over Your Email

This one is pretty easy. Don’t use templates, or background colors, or weird fonts, or colored fonts, or stationery, or anything else that makes your email look like it came from that crazy aunt who still uses dial up and has an AOL account.

HTML emails are ok, but don’t go overboard. I’m using plain text in all of my emails now; it keeps the experience consistent regardless of the email client.

Emails that look like the one below will be laughed at, shared around the office, and then filed away in that special Trash folder.

email etiquette

You Mistakenly Inserted a Novel into the Body

I understand you have a lot to say, but email might not be the best place for it. Nobody likes long and drawn out emails. Get to the point quickly by stating:

  1. What your question/problem/issue is.
  2. What you would like done about it.
  3. When you would like to have it done by.

If you have multiple requests or issues, then break them up into separate emails. It makes them much easier to process and respond to.

Your Signature is an Autobiography

There should be only basic information in your signature. The chances of me needing your work address, company website, personal website, company logo, favorite quote, favorite bible passage, company disclosure information, Facebook page, Twitter page, LinkedIn page, and what you’re currently reading are slim to none.

I was guilty of including too much in my deliverbliss.com emails for a while, but I’ve seen the light and pared it down to the basics.

My work signature looks like this:

Tim Sanchez
GM | ABIS, Inc.
office 713.555.5555
mobile 713.555.5556

It’s simple and doesn’t take up 75% of the email body. No pictures, links, crazy fonts, or requests to not print my emails. Just the basics.

What Do You Think?

Sorry for the rant, that’s been building up for a while. Am I being too strict here? Do you have some email annoyances I didn’t mention?

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18 Comments


  1. I am attempting to draft an email to you violating all the above. I know it is a large endeavor but I think I have what it takes. Lol. Great reminders. Dang I really need to get rid of the fairy background?

  2. Awesome post, Tim. I’m currently working on trying to standardize all of our company email signatures. It’s confusing when emails from 5 different people in one company have the appearance of being from 5 different companies.

    Also, (I thought you’d get a kick out of this) I used to have a folder of emails entitled “Emails I wish I could have sent.” They were all hilarious responses to clients and coworkers who had sent me ridiculous/pointless emails.

  3. Yet another reminder that we all need to care about communication – ALL THE TIME. Great post, Tim!

    BTW I use Xobni to help with email search. It helps a ton for me, and luckily you can search the body of the email message as well as the subject.

    • I haven’t tried Xobni (i do use outlook from time to time), but my main mail app is Mail for the Mac. It allows you to search the body as well…I just wasn’t when I was searching (doh!).

  4. Hi Tim – two things.

    First a small gripe: I wanted to comment to your email, saw “open email in browser” option. Opened that. Unable to leave comments. No way link to blog for posting. Luckily a thought to click on the masthead and that brought me here…

    Second a suggestion re signatures: I use about.me – if someone is interested in knowing more, it’s a great way to introduce yourself and your contact details (as many as you like). Go to about.me or for my ‘signature’ go to http://www.about.me/jholtaway

    Regards

    Jerry

    • Damn, you’re exactly right…there isn’t a good way to get back to the post.

      How dumb am I?

      Thanks for pointing that out, I shall correct it today.

      I actually saw that about.me reference in your signature. I agree, it’s a very cool way to allow people to learn more about you without having it all stuffed in the signature. Great tip Jerry.

    • Nice tip about using “about me” in your signature!

  5. Words are good. A sentence works. A novel, crapped out by a fairy? Less welcome, IMHO.

    Brilliant job, Tim – although I prefer HTML and wish plain text were banned from the Interwebs (just personal taste, really).

  6. I collected some data on email etiquette this past summer ( a survey of 400+ business professionals). Please feel free to use it! http://researchresultstest1.wikispaces.com/Key+Study+Results

    • That’s great Kathryn, thanks for sharing. I’ve marked it for later so I can review it in detail. Anything in particular that stuck out in your research that surprised you?

      • I found some gaps between the importance attached to a criterion (whats important in business email) and the actual percentage of emails that meet the criterion. So areas with big gaps would indicate greatest areas for improvement.

  7. Tim,
    Thanks for this great article. I believe everyone should pay more attention to proper communication in every aspect of life. Since most of us communicate via email, incorporating our best skills can make an enormous difference in our level of positive response.

  8. Good post with some very good tips. A bonus for using good etiquette is you tend to decrease the volume emails you receive because there is less need for back and forth.

    One question – you have 20,000 emails in your inbox and you are still on it?! I will be interested to hear about your system! (My inbox has 1 email in it at the moment. And yes, I do get a lot of email.)

    • Good point about decreasing the volume by using the right etiquette.

      I’m happy to report that my inbox is down to a paltry 10,000 messages at the moment. I deleted several thousand the other day so I didn’t go over my memory limit on our Exchange server. :)

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