How Not To Be Annoying And Incompetent At E-mail

Just because you’ve fired off dozens of emails every day for more than a decade, it doesn’t mean you’ve been doing it right. You may reinforcing bad habits with each misfired message, unaware that you’re rankling friends, business contacts and customer service reps.

Over at Speak Softly and Carry a Red Pen, Mehnaz offers five pieces of email etiquette to follow:

*Watch your tone. Sarcasm can come across as cruelty and silliness can seem like idiocy. Make sure you’re getting the intended message across.

*Step away from caps lock. ALLCAPS seem unprofessional, childish and angry. They rarely make you look good.

*Say please and thank you. It’s easy to be curt and demanding when sending e-memos. Stay polite in order to avoid coming off as rude,

*Save questions for the end of messages. Whatever you end with will stick out in the recipient’s mind, so if you want something answered don’t bury it up top.

*Don’t ramble. People go through tons of messages, sometimes dismissing them within seconds. Stay on message and don’t be wordy so you don’t waste their time.

Do you agree with Mehnaz’s advice? What are your email pet peeves?

Email Etiquette: The 5 Important Things We Often Forget [Speak Softly and Carry a Red Pen]


Edit Your Comment

  1. humphrmi says:

    “Save questions for the end of messages. Whatever you end with will stick out in the recipient’s mind, so if you want something answered don’t bury it up top.”

    Actually, in my experience, most people only read the first one or two paragraphs (or even sentences) in an email, always intending to come back and read more later (but often not.) If there’s something important you need, I’ve always been taught to ask for it first, before you go into a long spiel.

    • tbax929 says:

      I think a good rule of thumb is not to send long e-mails in the first place. As they say above, don’t ramble. But, you’re right, if the e-mail has to be a few paragraphs the best place for the questions that need answering is the first one. Most people won’t bother to read the whole e-mail anyway.

      • bnilsen says:

        Sometimes asking the question or expressing the need in the subject line works best. Craft a subject line with a due date for example: Comments requested by 10/5 COB

        • Brie says:

          I’ve learned to repeat the key detail both in the subject and in the body. If my subject is “Location CHANGED to 10:30 AM,” and the body reads “See you in Conference Room A,” I get replies that say “cool what time is the mtg?” Never mind that the meeting is probably also on the central calendar… the more senior my co-workers/bosses were, the less e-mail fluent they were, but I digress.

          • Quantumpanda says:

            Which just dovetails into my pet peeve in work e-mail: people who put the entire question in the subject line and don’t put *anything* in the message body. I see this daily. Subject headers are meant to be short summaries. A lengthy question as subject, in many e-mail readers, will simply get cut off in the default display, forcing you to go into the detail headers to find out what they’re asking you. And most of my co-workers wouldn’t know how to get to the detail headers if their jobs depended on it.

      • dblevins says:

        Question is subject is excellent advice — but make sure it is the FULL question, e.g. not just “Question”, or “Help” or “need advice” or “Can’t download”.

        • SunnyLea says:

          That’s irritating everywhere. You see it on message boards all the time.

          I was on a board once where a vague subject like that got your post deleted. It was heaven.

          • Ben says:

            How about when someone forwards you an email with no message of their own included, so you’re left on your own to figure out why they forwarded the email and what you’re supposed to do with it?!

        • Bibliovore says:

          This is good advice for any kind of email, even if those that aren’t questions. Someone who, say, is in charge of booking meeting rooms is going to have a lot of messages that are just headered “Meeting room needed.” Specifics in the header make it much easier to find a specific message later, and to tell which thread a follow-up message or reply addresses.

        • Rectilinear Propagation says:

          You’d think people would stop doing that if only because it looks like spam. I’ve gotten legit e-mails caught by my spam filters because the person sending it used a subject line like “Hello”.

          I look at any item with a vague or empty subject last.

    • whgt says:

      Agreed and I’ll take it a step further…don’t ask multiple questions in a string / paragraph. Make a numbered list of questions and ask that they copy back your questions to you and type the answers in red after each question.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      I’ve found that more frequent paragraph breaks than you would use in casual correspondence seems to help. Each new point or question starts a new line, double-spaced from the last. Kind of like bullet points, but still in a letter form. It helps when people are skimming down.

      If I have a really important nugget of information or a question, it gets its own line.

  2. E-Jungle says:

    These are all sensible suggestions. I fire off loads of mails every day for work, and I like it when people are polite but to the point, no need to recite unnecessary things. Most of the time i’m looking for a simple answer to a question, not a lengthy essay.

  3. deadandy says:

    I’ve found that if I type two or more paragraphs in an email, people won’t read past the first paragraph half the time. They’ll say they “didn’t see it” or something.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      I find if I have to type several paragraphs, a phone call will usually get the job done more quickly.

  4. CBenji says:

    Funny nothing about CC’ing everyone when you meant to only send it to a 10 people in your group, and the people that do it all the time, or the people that love to send fwd’s without cleaning them up….

    • quail says:

      What’s worse too are all of the people who use “reply all” when they only need to send information back to the originator of the message. Only upside to seeing someone do that is when they bad mouth someone else on the email list (DRAMA).

      Also, the US congregational email system had issues because “reply all” seemed to be the defacto way people in congress seemed to use email. They ran out of storage space because of all of the duplication….

      • guroth says:

        There are reasons to reply to all, even if the information is only beneficial to one recipient. An example of this would be so that the other recipients know that you have replied to the primary recipient, otherwise they may send you more emails wondering “have you gotten back to Lucy yet???”

        • Bibliovore says:

          Or Lucy may receive a dozen emails with essentially the same response, as nobody knows she’s been answered — more effort all around.

          In my office, if somebody’s cc’d on a thread it’s typically because they need to be aware of the relevant actions or responses for that thread. If someone just answers the initial sender, that sender then gets to forward the response around — assuming they noticed that the reply went just to them. Otherwise, the cc crowd may assume the matter’s not yet resolved, and may spend more time and effort staying aware of it, following up on it, etc.

          • Rectilinear Propagation says:

            I appreciate when someone Replies All because the Q/A is going to be relevant to everybody but what they’re talking about is when a mass e-mail goes out about say, the company winning a reward and someone Replies All with, “Yeah, go Company!”

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        At my job, when people ask for samples, the salesmen have taken to cc’ing the original person when they forward it to me for shipping. That results in them bypassing Sales to ask me for stuff directly, or even other questions.

        Since I’m not involved in ANY of that (all I do is ship stuff), I then have to explain to them that I’ll be happy to accommodate their request and that all future requests need to go through their sales reps in case they have other questions. I’ve asked Sales repeatedly not to do that, but some people still do it because they’re passive-aggressive a-holes.

      • sybann says:

        THIS! Biggest peeve ever – not even a “pet’ – MORE LIKE A HERD OF RAMPAGING WILDEBEESTS. Sorry.

      • sybann says:

        THIS! Biggest peeve ever – not even a “pet’ – MORE LIKE A HERD OF RAMPAGING WILDEBEESTS. Sorry.

      • Doubts42 says:

        This. I am a help desk tech with a email que. Whenever you send an e-mail to the que it instantly becomes a ticket i have to resolve and track. So someone will send a ticket to me and cc someone else. Then they get into an exchange using the reply all. I now have 25 tickets all for the same issue, and the thread has moved on to little jimmy’s piano recital or fido’s bowel movements.

    • kc2idf says:

      Hear, hear! I delete more than half of the email I receive in a work day because (a) it doesn’t pertain to my job and (b) I couldn’t care less. If a particular thread gets especially noisy, I have an email rule called “Muted threads” to which I add the subject line on an ad-hoc basis.

    • runswithscissors says:

      Unfortunately I think some people who do this have learned they HAVE to or else people think they aren’t getting any work done.

      I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t CC everyone on my team on almost every email, especially CC my boss, then they all think I’m not working on anything – or at least not on anything important.

      Stupid? Yes. One of many such stupidities, sadly.

  5. Saydur says:

    Use a “default” font. Times New Roman or Arial works just fine. Calibri is okay too since Microsoft Word has indoctrinated all of us. Helvetica if you’re a font geek. If you pick a font because it looks “pretty”, everyone else will think “unreadable.” If you pick Papyrus or Comic Sans, nobody will take you seriously. If you can’t get the message across in your words, no amount of formatting will help you.

    • UltimateOutsider says:

      Yes, don’t change the default font or text color unless you have special needs that require the change in order for the text to be readable. A lot of people who do this also apply different skins to their email environments so something that’s readable on their screen is illegible to anyone else using the default settings.

    • elangomatt says:

      I’ll agree to this one. If someone sends me an email in a stupid fancy curly font, I will go out of my way to strip the formatting out of it and reply to them is plain text. :) Of course, if I would quit reading my email in HTML mode, I guess I would never see the annoying font in the first place. Worse yet are the people that like to use some stupid background image in their emails.

    • loquaciousmusic says:

      Our wonderful office assistant — and she actually is wonderful; I’m not being sarcastic — sends all her messages in 14-point blue Comic Sans. God help me, I just can’t bring myself to tell her to stop!

      • Doubts42 says:

        I really don’t understand font snobbery. No I don’t use, nor am I particularly fond of Comic Sans. But i don’t see any harm in a font as long as it is easily read. And you can’t really claim Comic Sans is difficult to read. It is about as plain as possible.

    • Sian says:

      U mad?

    • mac-phisto says:

      am i the last person on the planet that strips all emails to plain text? maybe i should hop on the rich text bandwagon – there’s plenty of times i’d like to bold or italicize something, but don’t (b/c i can’t).

      back in the day, there was a reason to strip to plain text – nasties embedded in the rich text. is this not the case anymore?

      • Bibliovore says:

        Rich text can give bad or simply different formatting, especially if the recipient’s email program is different from the sender’s, or if the recipient uses a text-only mail shell. I’m an editor; if I email someone a content update, I need it to be received exactly as I sent it, without any potential spacing differences or formatting quirks. Plain text only, for me.

      • tungstencoil says:

        No, you’re not. I default to plain text, at least on my personal email. No, you cannot really embed nasties in rich text anymore, so assuming you’re running an even somewhat modern OS (post-2004 or so) you should be OK. Of course, links, attachments, etc. are all suspect still. My mail client even replaces embedded images with a placeholder and gives me the option to show them, because they’re usually fetched from a remote server.

      • jessjj347 says:

        You’re not the only one. Actually it’s funny when plain-text users have to recreate a mandated company logo or something of the like.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      Alas, Helvetica will only work if the recipient also has that font installed in their machine. Otherwise it’s back to (bleh) Arial. You’re right about not being taken seriously if someone uses Comic Sans — I don’t even bother reading anything when that awful, awful font appears in the body of the message.

  6. sir_eccles says:

    If you have lots of points to get across:

    – consider bullet points
    – keep each one brief
    – don’t forget to proof read and spell check

    • ARP says:

      I hate to be snarky, but given your message- its either “proofread” or “proof-read” according to and wikipedia.

      • sir_eccles says:

        Ah, but I might have made that mistake intentionally to see if anyone was reading my comment.

        • MeowMaximus says:

          Actually we used our orbital mind control lasers on you to force to to not notice that mistake. Now that we know that they work, you will also not notice that your bank accounts have all been transferred to shady offshore banks, your credit cards are all maxed out, and you evidently co-signed some loans for beach front property in Kansas. Have a nice day.

  7. tbax929 says:

    I think the number one tip should be to use proper grammar. People have a tendency to e-mail the same way they talk, which is fine when sending e-mail to a friend, but it’s completely unacceptable in a professional e-mail.

    I work in a professional field and am surprised at how bad some of the “professional” e-mails I receive are. It’s as if they’re not even teaching grammar in school anymore.

    • jbandsma says:

      They aren’t. No grammar, no spelling, no writing skills. Most aren’t even taught how to format a letter until college; when it’s too late to break old habits.

      • tbax929 says:

        That’s insane. Judging from what I see in e-mails, though, I’m not all that surprised.

        • jbandsma says:

          I had a discussion with my youngest son’s teacher when he was in the 4th grade;

          Me: I see you didn’t take any points off for this misspelling.
          Teacher: No, we don’t do that. As long as we can tell what they’re trying to say, it’s ok.
          Me: You mean it doesn’t matter how they spell something?
          Teacher: No, by the time they’re in high school they will have learned to spell correctly.
          Me: But he misspelled his NAME.
          Teacher: (cue crickets)

          • Macgyver says:

            Why is she even a teacher if she doesn’t care about spelling. She is an example of why kids are failing in school.

          • watch me boogie says:

            My fourth-grade English teacher would mark an entire answer wrong if you misspelled any of the words in said answer. It was frustrating, but valuable in the long run.

            • roguemarvel says:

              I hated that when I was in high school. I’m a terrible speller (I’m told it is because I learned to read at a young age and didn’t need to learn to spell to read like many kids). I always hated when I would write an A paper but I had teachers who took of 1 point for every misspelled word. and it would end up being a B paper. It was also extremely embarrassing to get the paper back with all the little red marks all over it. But I know why they did it. Didn’t really fix my problem tho.

              • jessjj347 says:

                I don’t think the teachers should be taking off points for spelling. With word processors, there’s no point in learning every single exception in the English language. Also, I agree that being a poor speller does not mean that you can’t write well.

                Personally, I don’t ever have the need to write any essay, communication, etc without it being typed. Even standardized tests are either scantron (sp?) or computerized (not sure about grade school, but SAT, GRE, USMLE, etc are). Sometimes, I’ll write the occasional letter for snail mail purposes…

          • Rectilinear Propagation says:

            Teacher: No, by the time they’re in high school they will have learned to spell correctly.

            How did they think they’re going to learn how to spell correctly if they’re not teaching them too? Someone who fails this badly at thinking logically should not be teaching.

      • spanky says:

        Usage and grammar are not the same thing; but as of a few years ago, my son’s English classes did include usage, and it was just as wrongheaded and poorly taught as it was when I was a kid.

    • dreamfish says:

      I don’t agree. Emails are not like letters and I find very formally written mails rather annoying, if not officious. They’re more like a cross between a note and a phone conversation, and the tone and content should written as such.

      • elangomatt says:

        We aren’t asking for formal writing like someone is writing a legal brief or something. I just want some proper grammar with some capital letters and punctuation thrown in the right places.

      • tbax929 says:

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, dreamfish. I despise when people send me e-mails that are poorly written. Maybe it’s because in my field those e-mails get attached to client’s electronic files and become part of their permanent record, but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        This would be correct if we were still operating exclusively from one level to another through paper letters. I talk to my boss through e-mail all the time, and I always make sure my e-mails are very professional. She IS my boss. Just because e-mail is not a paper letter, doesn’t mean you can be more casual. It’s about the person you talk to, not the medium.

    • sybann says:

      I must agree – vociferously. It’s incredibly difficult to respect superiors if they don’t live up to minimum intellectual benchmarks. Grammar is way up there. (Not their).

  8. quail says:

    Got to agree, lots of people barely look at their emails unless its from their boss or is part of project they’re working. Keep the email simple and if you have to preface your questions with a paragraph that explains the situation, consider giving each question a bullet to make it stand out. This also allows the responder the chance to answer within your email.

    My email pet peeves:
    1) Idiots who continually forward “funny”/”political”/”religious” junk. You’re bound to wind up on my spam filter.

    2) Idiots who send stuff to masses of people but have no idea on how to use BCC. Thanks for sharing my email with the world.

    3) Idiots who use email as though they are texting. Didn’t get an answer right away? Don’t send me an email asking if I got your email one to two hours after the first one was sent.

    4) Idiots who can’t write in complete sentences or explain themselves. Try to remember what you learned in 6th grade English and use it please.

    • Straspey says:

      Seems like you know a lot of idiots…

    • DimTwinkle says:

      Regarding #3, if something is that important, there’s this thing called the telephone. . .

      • Brunette Bookworm says:

        True, but since I do payroll at work I ask people to send emails on items, even if they call me, so that I have a written record of a request.

        • xxmichaelxx says:

          Disagree. The more important something is (at work), the more I refuse to act on it without a paper trail. The phone is for socializing; email is for getting work done. (And IM is for absolute emergencies.)

    • CookiePuss says:

      1 and 2 I encounter alot in personal email and I agree it’s very frustrating.

    • dblevins says:

      5) Using “bcc:” for long addressee listings

      6) Using “reply all” when #6 is violated

      7) Automatically forwarding any email to long list if email has been forwarded more than twice. (Almost all of these messages are not true.)

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Don’t send me an email asking if I got your email one to two hours after the first one was sent.

      I hate it when I get e-mailed or IMed and then get called immediately after the message was sent. It’d be one thing if what they wanted to discuss was complex or just hard to explain but they’re usually just repeating the message they just sent me.

      But then work calls make me cranky anyway because we don’t get headsets in my team and everything takes 10 times longer on the phone than it would in an e-mail or IM.

  9. Newto-Rah says:

    I’m an engineering student in University, and being taught how to properly send an e-mail is probably one of the most important things we’ve done so far. One thing not on your list is unless you’re e-mailing someone you talk to all the time, introduce yourself in the first line. Tell them who you are and what you want.

    We just had to do a ton of meeting with profs in the past two weeks in order to talk about possible projects for one of our courses. Almost all the e-mail began with “My name is X, I am e-mailing you on behalf of group Y about your project Z” and then explain when we can meet and a brief bit about why we’d be good for the project.

    Professionals can get dozens to hundreds of e-mails a day, if they have to read a ten page e-mail to figure out what you want and who you are, they simply won’t.

  10. scouts honor says:

    My pet peeves include everything that quail pointed out, plus the people who hit “reply to all” reflexively to share their every brain fart with the world. A simple “thank you” to the original sender doesn’t need to clog up everyone else’s inbox.

  11. Moriarty says:

    CAPSLOCK ALWAYS MAKES YOU SEEM LIKE A CHILD THROWING A TANTRUM. That I agree with. The others? Eh. I mean, not that you can’t accidentally come off as a jerk or send unclear, rambling messages, but that’s all more situation dependent.

  12. DimTwinkle says:

    I think it’s important to consider both the purpose of the message and its audience. Email is used instead of memos, letters, phone calls, and even meetings. It lasts forever.

    – If you’re shooting a message to your good work buddy instead of calling, remember that you’re leaving a business record. Short and abrupt might work between the two of you but if that email is pulled in the future it could be totally misinterpreted.

    – If you’re emailing instead of sending a letter or memo, I think that, just like any business message, it needs to be concise but thoughtful and professional.

    – As for questions at the beginning or end, I was taught by a writing professional that the best way to start any business communication is with “I’m writing because. . .” This can be revised to be less formulaic but it clearly defines the purpose of the message at the beginning. – for you as you write and, once polished, for the reader.

    • Jdavis says:

      Good points. Sending an email between buddies is what lead to the whole non-scandal “Climategate” situation. Also what I’ve been taught is you say what you’re going to say, say it, and repeat what you said.

  13. univision says:

    Another thing I think is very important is grammar and proper punctuation. Jeez, I hate it even when my wife sends me an email that reads like a 3 year old (or a 15 year old with txt shrt cuts) wrote it. Commas are used in many languages, and is it me, or does it seem like people use them less and less?

    • elangomatt says:

      Commas, capitalization, and even periods are disappearing from the emails!

    • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

      In fairness, commas are relatively rare in some languages where they do exist, and I’ve dealt with people from other countries who don’t really use them, and will also occasionally misspell things. But periods… oh my flying bats of Beelzebub! Why am I expected to separate your thoughts for you? I find I’m not usually dealing with a language barrier, but one of intelligence.

  14. dreamfish says:

    One suggestion, from experience, is that the tone can be interpreted very differently to how you intended. You could be writing what you think it a short and to-the-point request but the recipient might see that as being off-hand and brusque.

    That’s why it’s often a good idea to write the content but ‘park’ it for say five to ten minutes and then re-read it – it may well end up reading very differently to how you intended!

    Oh, and one other thing: don’t include a dozen other indented replies in a long conversation only to add ‘OK’ right at the end. That’s really annoying.

  15. Paul Schreiber says:

    No top posting. No quoting entire threads.

    • Quantumpanda says:

      Ugh. I *hate* top-posting. And it is now the default in most e-mail software, including Outlook. Top-posting encourages people to not bother trimming quoted material, among other bad habits.

      • Jasen says:

        I hate bottom posting. People don’t trim excess quotes anyway.
        Then we have to scroll down though sometimes multiple pages of previous quotes to finally get to what the last person said to us.
        If everyone top posted, the newest response is always at the top and the first thing seen. No scrolling, and it won’t matter whether or not they trim the start of the email chain off. This is why email software defaults to top posting when quoting–it just makes more sense. Email isn’t meant to be used as a bulletin board where new posts are always below old posts.

        Whichever one is being done in an email chain, the worst thing anyone can do is change it. If the previous quoted emails were all responded to top-posted or bottom-posted, don’t do the opposite just because you like it better! If though I don’t care for bottom-posting, if I respond to an email where the chain was all done this way, I will respond in like.

  16. Macgyver says:

    People who sends out emails, should also know how to use correct grammar, correct spelling, correct punctuation. And break up your sentences with paragraphs. I hate reading stuff that looks like one big long run on sentence.

    Also keep that text, and twit speak out. I don’t want to have to Google what someone is trying to spell out.
    Email doesn’t have a character limit, so take the time to fully type out the word.

    Spell check, people have to learn to use it.

    Read what you typed, to check your grammar, spelling, and punctuations.

    • spanky says:

      Is that a joke?

      • elangomatt says:

        Is this a joke that you are asking him if it is a joke? Well, your joke isn’t funny. It really isn’t all that difficult to write an email with proper English.

        • quijote says:

          Maybe he’s asking because the post contained several grammatical errors. Nearly every commenter here exhorting others to use proper grammar has made grammatical errors.

        • spanky says:

          No, I mean that the comment doesn’t even look like it was written by a native English speaker. It’s a trainwreck, even if you ignore prescriptive usage and punctuation rules.

    • 6T9 says:

      I MADDE A JOKE 1 TIM. IT WERE AS FOUR FUNNYTIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • 6T9 says:

      Although I try to check grammar and punctuation when commenting on a post; I tend to think that as long as the post is written in a readable form, the comments are interesting regardless of an error or two.

      Sentence too long? Semi colon used incorrectly? At least I used the question thingy at the end.

  17. Ihaveasmartpuppy says:

    Don’t begin a customer service inquiry with “Dear Sir or Madam”.

  18. elangomatt says:

    One thing I would like to add to this list. This really only applies when you are sending a personal email to a business or someone you don’t know. You might want to think about having access to an email account that is some variation of your name or at least something that is not blatently unprofessional. A while back someone sent in a resume that listed their email of something like She was applying for a job with that email address!

    • kalaratri says:

      Hubby’s e-mail is suitably embarrassing like that. He also has a proper one from gmail with his name, but he keeps giving out his less professional one and I cringe every time.

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        All else being equal, potential employers will probably choose applicants with the more neutral or professional address, since those applicants seem to understand the concept of professionalism, and therefore may be less likely to embarrass the employer in front of clients. For someone to use a crude or profane e-mail address for any kind of business contact would make me worry that that person would eventually make some kind of inappropriate or unprofessional comment in front of a client.

        (I’m not making allegations about your husband’s behavior or attitude, just trying to give you a way to explain to him how it might affect the decisions of potential employers who have little else to go on other than the information in front of them.)

  19. elangomatt says:

    Oh one more thing I forgot. Make sure to include information that the email recipient is going to need to help you. At my helpdesk on a daily basis I have people email us telling us they can’t log in to their account but don’t bother to include ANY identifiable information like their name or ID # or anything. I guess it really doesn’t matter much since we won’t reset a password via an email anyway, but don’t they think we need to know who they are to have any chance of helping them?

    • tbax929 says:

      I have this problem with replies. Some folks’ e-mail systems don’t include the original content of the message. I get at least 100 e-mails a day. It’s easier for me to understand what the person is telling me if I have the e-mail trail below it to refer back to.

      If I e-mail a question and your reply just says “yes” or “no”, wouldn’t it make sense to include my original e-mail with your reply? Otherwise, I’ve got to search my sent box to see what I even asked in the first place!

      • elangomatt says:

        Yeah I have that problem too where people don’t leave the previous messages in the emails. Unless I have a good reason to keep it, I usually delete messages after I reply to them so I usually have to end up either looking in the trash for the previous email or my sent items folder.

    • Doubts42 says:


      I support mortgage people, who by the nature of their jobs are nver at their desks. So when they dash off an e-mail that says “program x wont load” with no details and then complain when their problem isn’t fixed by the time they get back from their sales call.

      Well genius, you turned off your computer so i couldn’t remote in, you weren’t at your desk for me to call, and you didn’t tell me what error message you were getting. So all you accomplished was to waste both of our time.

  20. ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

    All lessons, it seems, that I learned online dating. Seriously.

  21. MMD says:

    Regarding the first point about tone…

    Can we all agree that the trope of “you can’t convey tone over e-mail” is a cop-out? I find that those who say that a lot tend to be people who don’t write well in general.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      It depends. I’ve found that there are degrees of familiarity that affect how an e-mail is interpreted. The highest level is someone with whom you’ve interacted regularly, like a co-worker. For that person, there are very few mistakes in tone. Sure, they can say the wrong thing via e-mail, but chances are they do that face-to-face anyway. Next is someone with whom you’ve talked on the phone. Verbal tone carries lots of cues, but many of them are visual, so we have a partial picture of their tone and mannerisms. Last would be someone with whom we have only interacted textually, whether it be e-mail, chat, or good old snail mail. Those are the people for whom we have the least context, and so misunderstandings of tone and mannerism are most likely.

      This is why I try to encourage meeting off-site co-workers in person whenever possible, and when it isn’t, a Skype video chat is usually a close substitute. I find it eases communications, reduces misundertandings and clarifications, and even improves efficiency by allowing for shorter, more concise e-mails.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Can we all agree that the trope of “you can’t convey tone over e-mail” is a cop-out?

      Nope, not considering the number of times someone has to explain they were being sarcastic in these threads.

  22. freshyill says:

    I just had a work email forwarded to me that had 11 attachment. I was expecting one. The other 10 were an image in the signature of one of the other participants from the conversation that went back and forth before it got sent to me.

    Seriously. Don’t use different fonts, colors, or images in your signature.

  23. 6T9 says:

    Is this a reprint from 1998?

    • ARP says:

      Yes, but as digital generation kids grow up, they tend to be less formal and less correct (in spelling, grammar, tone, etc.). So it’s worth repeating.

      • 6T9 says:

        Good point, however, I don’t think that this train is stoppable. It irritates the hell out of me when I try to read this new shorthand text, but I’m not so sure that I can convince kids to write any other way. I’m only 41 and I’ve already been pushed off of the train.

        P.S. Van Halen rules!

    • jimmyhl says:

      Maybe it is from 1998, but for those of us who still use a lot of email, the advice holds up. And, there are new people entering the market every day who could benefit from the advice.

  24. Tim says:

    Spelling and grammar. I hate e-mails that don’t have good spelling and/or grammar (exception: e-mails sent from a BlackBerry).

  25. XianZomby says:

    – You digitally sign your email with a certiificate that is invalid and when I open your email I have to acknowledge that your certificate is inavalid before I can open it.

    – You don’t include your telephone number in your sig file at the end of each e-mail.

    • Foxtrot-Yankee says:

      I have two signatures. One has a phone number and one doesn’t. My default sig is the one *without* a phone number.

      If I’m e-mailing you about something, it’s usually because I want to communicate on that subject in an asynchronous fashion. If I wanted to talk to you about it, I would have called you. My e-mail is an invitation to reply via e-mail. It’s not an invitation to call. If my phone number isn’t in the message, I really don’t want to talk to you.

      If you’re my boss or someone who gets to dictate to me what form of communication we use, then you already have my phone number.

      • Jasen says:

        Yeah right. If I wanted you to call me, I’d give you my phone number. I didn’t just “forget” to put it in my sig.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I leave my phone number in my signature because I’ve had people e-mail me back to ask me for my number. They can’t even take the effort to look me up in the directory but they’ll e-mail and ask for my office line.

  26. RonYnz says:

    It bugs me when there is a chain of email relating to one subject and then someone hijacks and changes the subject to something completely different. They don’t want to start a new email with a different subject line.

  27. taney71 says:

    Sign off with your full name with professional/work emails.

    • myCatCracksMeUp says:

      my full name is on the “from” line – as in first.last – so I only “sign” with my first name.

    • Brunette Bookworm says:

      And, include your phone number if you mention in your email I can call you or you request that I call about something. Don’t make me hunt down your phone number, there are a thousand people in our company directory.

  28. Megalomania says:

    I would say this kind of sidesteps one of the more important and basic issues – simply addressing someone. Which salutation to use, first name versus title and last name… the groan inducing “to whom it may concern”; this quite often runs into the “text has no tone” issue where one person’s friendly greeting reads as being angry.

  29. Intheknow says:

    I hate reading e-mail and text messaging that contain grammar and spelling mistakes. Honestly, you’d think having graduated from at least high school, people would know basic grammar and how to use a spell checker. It’s hard to take anyone seriously who doesn’t know how to use an apostrophe.

  30. Foxtrot-Yankee says:

    Many of my peeves are already listed elsewhere in this comments section. But here’s one that I didn’t see:

    I hate when people type the message for the first line of the message in the subject field and then just continue on in the body of the message.

  31. human_shield says:

    Write normally!!! I’m sick of getting emails from “professionals” with no greeting, no punctuation, and bad grammar. You are not texting your teenager!

  32. Carlee says:

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when people don’t use subject lines – either leave them completely blank or put something like “Hi”. If I’m emailing my close friends and it’s more like a conversation, then it’s fine not to put a subject line. But we get emails from the top people in our organization with no subject lines. Sometimes the emails are notifying us that we can leave early the day before a holiday, sometimes it’s letting us know that a retired employee has passed away.

    I have one person at work who puts “Hi” as her subject line in virtually every single email she sends me, and the first line of her email is “This is Agnes”. I know who you are – I can tell by your email address!

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      I’m surprised your spam filter doesn’t tag the blank subject line e-mails as junk mail.

  33. bugpaste says:

    I have a colleague whose every email encapsulates everything I hate about electronic communications.

    –Every message, even if it’s only a sentence or two long, contains capslock AND unnecessary quotes.

    –He claims that his email provider won’t allow him to send attachments (and uses that as an excuse to send me paperwork way past its due date, since his fax machine frequently craps out too). I suspect he’s just a massive technophobe.

    –At least 75% of his messages end up in my inbox twice, somehow.

    –He frequently copies everyone in my four-person office on messages that only one or two of us need to see (and I’m generally not one of them).

    Despite all of this, I genuinely enjoy working with him in person and I’ll be sad when he retires 5 or 10 years from now. I just hope his replacement is a little more tech-savvy.

  34. gman863 says:

    For an e-mail to be effective, avoid the following words and phrases — especially in the subject line:

    Discount Orgazim
    Viagara CHEEP NOW!!!
    MAle EnHAnCEMent
    Make THOUSAND$ NOW – Hiring Emmediatly!
    UR Sexy! Talk hot chat NOW
    Help! Nigerian Prints needs help ejaculating from county!

  35. chocolate1234 says:

    Two of my biggest work email pet peeves are people who don’t understand that there is a spell check button, and people who include corny, “inspirational” quotations in the signature line. If only they knew we all laugh at their expense.

  36. Yoko Broke Up The Beatles says:

    I would add OVERUSING e-mail to the list of e-mail pet peeves. At my last job, I would get way too many e-mails during the day, and the ones from people that sat right next to me always stunned me. We didn’t have a “cube farm” setup, so these people could’ve easily just turned 90 degrees and talked to me….I was all of 3 feet away from them.

    Of course there is the idea of having a “paper trail” for anything business-related, but I think a lot of people at that company used e-mail as a crutch because they were either afraid of human contact or just lazy or both.

  37. jennleighh says:

    Little late to the party, but. . .

    I have four e-mail accounts, and the one we are required to use at work has limited capacity. My ultimate pet peeve, over and above all of the urban legends, all-caps, and re: re: re: re: epics, is that one of our secretaries has created stationery for herself filled with images and clip art and each time she sends an e-mail of even one line it’s almost 1 MB. Yes, she’s been talked to, but she really likes animated cats. And the other secretary in her office adds attachments of immense size when a link would work just as well.

    Oh, well. Welcome to public education.

  38. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    I nominate this to also apply to people responding to blog posts. You know who you are, illiterate posters who can’t bother to react to words with red squiggly lines underneath them. Don’t claim “I don’t have on-the-fly spell-checking” either — it’s been part of every web browser since 2006. You honestly think I believe you’re still using Lynx, or Netscape 3.0?

    Then again, there may be a few still stuck using IE 6, to which I say: wait until you get home, or pull out your iPhone and browse here with Safari.

  39. PLATTWORX says:

    So much of this SHOULD go without saying.

    I have run CS operations and why on Earth people think via phone or e-mail that screaming, being rude, sarcastic, etc. will get them a good result escapes me every time.

    The kind, considerate and polite customer who gets to the point gets 100 times more.

  40. joe23521 says:

    Read it twice before sending would help avoid a lot of problems.

  41. DJSeanMac says:

    “I just wanted to take a moment and email you about…”

    I’m a big fan of not repeating the obvious when sending professional emails. I had a boss with rather lackluster grammar and skills in email that our employer found charming and “southern”. No.

    • bugpaste says:

      Oh man, I was once disciplined at work for failing to be properly Southern. Raised in New Jersey, educated in California, had lived in the South for all of three months at that point.

      I’ve now lived in the South for four years and I *still* don’t understand how to be properly Southern. I guess it’s because I’m not a bottle-blond bubbleheaded bigot?

  42. balderdashed says:

    Worse than any of these: emailers who leave the subject line blank, or put something in the subject line that is vague, esoteric, or otherwise provides no clue as to what the email is about. If I’m later trying to find the email with your recipe for chocolate chip cookies, it will help a lot if the subject line says, “Chocolate chip cookie recipe,” not, “Here goes, give this a try,” or “Let me know what you think…” There’s also a good chance I’ve already deleted your email — or never read it — because your folksy, off-the-cuff subject line sounded like spam.

  43. dumblonde says:

    Avoid sending emails that just say thank you! Say thank you in advance.
    Don’t abuse exclamation marks and emoticons. In work emails forget them altogether.

  44. thomas_callahan says:

    How about a client of mine who calls me while the email is still sending on his end, says “did you get it yet?” over and over again until I do, then proceeds to read the email he just sent to me over the phone.

    I am not exaggerating.

  45. kmiles says:

    My biggest pet peeve (at least in the last week or so) is people who send you an email that’s clear as a bell, and within 5 minutes they’re calling you to 1) ask if you got it and 2) talk about it. If it’s something you feel you need to follow up with a call about… don’t send the email (unless there are necessary attachments/diagrams) – just call for pete’s sake!

  46. watchwhathappens says:

    the last one, PLEEEEEZE. I just got an email that’s 3,569 WORDS long. And none of it answered the question I asked.

  47. nealbscott says:

    Use the SUBJECT line!!!
    Use the SUBJECT line!!

    Did I mention …. Use the SUBJECT line!!

  48. PureRainbowPower says:

    How is this not common sense? Jesus Christ.

  49. Nobby says:

    Don’t create a friggin audience!

    I hate when counterparts reply to my emails and decide to CC all the friggin bosses, even on the most trivial issues. It’s like they’re constantly CYA-ing or they want everyone to know they’re actually doing something other than updating their Facebook page.

    These same people like to engage in email swordplay but when it’s time to eat crow and admit they’re wrong, they somehow forget to CC the bosses. In those cases, I respond with “No problem, no one’s perfect” — only I make sure to CC the bosses just like they had been doing all the time.

  50. NumberSix says:

    No subject line is pretty annoying.