Top rules for correct e-mail netiquette

Posted on January 8, 2009 by Daniel Petri in Office with 0 Comments

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with e-mail (besides the spam issue) is the fact that not many people know how to properly format their e-mail messages. Properly writing your e-mail is generally known as “e-mail netiquette”.

The rules of e-mail Netiquette are not “rules” that are written or governed by any authority, but are considered to be general guidelines that help avoid mistakes (like offending someone when you don’t mean to) and misunderstandings (like being offended when you’re not meant to). These core rules of e-mail Netiquette help us communicate better via e-mail.

I will try to comment on the top rules of e-mail netiquette in the following article.

Use e-mail the way you can want everybody to use it

First, let’s think: Do you like having these huge attachments being sent to you without asking for them? Do you like reading other people’s e-mail that is written on flashing html background with an almost invisible font face? Did you like that huge and childish signature you read on that last e-mail you got this morning?

Treat other humans like you’d like to be treated yourself.

Prefer sending TXT instead of HTML messages

There really is no good argument for sending e-mail in HTML format! See why:

The 7 sins

  • HTML e-mail is dangerous – Nearly all viruses are transmitted by e-mail. Both plain text and HTML mail may carry malware attachments but with HTML there is a significantly greater risk since some malware can exploit vulnerabilities in the HTML parser to automatically execute code as soon as the message is viewed in the preview pane (i.e. without the attachment having to be ‘opened’.)
  • HTML e-mail wastes bandwidth – Look at the source code of any HTML message and after the headers you’ll see the message body is duplicated, once in plain text and once in HTML. So most HTML messages are at least twice as big as plain text only, and they can be many time larger.
  • HTML e-mail doesn’t always work – Some popular e-mail readers (e.g. Pegasus) simply don’t read HTML mail, others (Pocomail and even AOL) have difficulties displaying it properly
  • HTML e-mail can connect to the internet by itself – If you’re off-line, opening an HTML e-mail containing images may (by default) open a connection to the internet.
  • HTML e-mail renders slowly – Some mail apps (e.g. Outlook) can slow down considerably when rendering HTML. The need for an HTML parser has also led to code-bloat in e-mail apps generally.
  • HTML e-mail is not always reader-friendly – HTML allows the sender to use unreadable small or non-standard fonts, clashing colors, badly formatted images and sometimes there is no quick or easy way for the reader to adjust the appearance to THEIR choice.
  • Digested lists hate HTML mail – Subscriber lists, particularly those with a digest, discourage and sometimes block HTML (since it appears in the digest as a mess of code).

So, when in doubt whether a recipient appreciates e-mail communication using HTML formatting, send plain text e-mails by default, especially if you have not previously talked to the recipient.

A note for Hebrew users: Writing in Hebrew may be one exception in which I do recommend using HTML. This is because of the fact that Hebrew fonts, written from right to left unlike English or other European languages, suffer greatly from the TXT formatted e-mails, and will always be justified to the left causing problems for the message recipient.

Ask before sending attachments

Sending idiotic 2MB pictures, Flash greeting cards, movie clips or other large content may be quite frustrating. Consider the fact that a lot of people may have just wanted to quickly check their e-mail and ended up waiting 20 minutes for a stupid attachment to download from their mail server.

BTW, if you must, use the most efficient compression tool available to you (besides the common WinZip, WinRAR, WinAce and others – I use 7-Zip which I find to be the best archiving tool available – and it’s all for free).

Also, on most servers that use strict quota limits, if a mailbox is not constantly emptied, overly large attachments can clog it and prevent the owner from getting e-mail.

This is why you should always ask before if it’s okay to send a larger file via e-mail.

Never send .DOC attachments unless you have to

Like HTML-formatted e-mail, Word .doc files are unnecessarily large for the message they contain and they can also carry viruses of all sorts. In 90% of cases the contents of a Word .doc could be put in a plain text file.

In 90% of the remaining 10%, where the layout of a document is important, the file should be (more safely) formatted as a Rich Text File (.rtf) which will not only be considerably smaller, but can be read by more programs on more platforms. RTF documents are also cross-version compatible, thus the recipient will not be required to run the same version of MS Word as yourself.

If possible, convert the document to Adobe .PDF format and thus preserve it’s formatting while generally reducing it’s security risks.

Writing in ALL CAPS IS LIKE SHOUTING!

When you write in all capital letters, this looks (and maybe sounds) to the recipient as if you were shouting. Keep your CAPS writing to the required minimum. Trust me, avoid using the caps lock key on your keyboard, or suffer the wrath of the annoyed recipient! If you send me a message that is all in caps you can be 100% sure it’s going right into my trash without being read.

Never forward a message asking you to do so!!!

The net is choked with traffic as it is. Much of it is unwanted spam. But there’s also the net version of the chain letter – “send a copy of this to everyone you know” – usually with some sob story attached and an implausible (or more likely impossible) promise that the message is somehow being tracked and that every time it is forwarded a child will be saved of dying from cancer and the world will be made a better place. These are all bogus. At best they are benign wastes of bandwidth. At worst they may carry a virus.

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See my Virus Warnings and Hoaxes page for more info on how to identify hoaxes and urban legends.

Keep forwarded e-mails clean

We’ve all received our share of great e-mail-jokes or other stuff we wanted to share with our coworkers, family or friends. However, sharing these e-mail in the form of forwarding them can cause the e-mail itself to grow beyond normal proportions, with many > characters and broken lines.

Clear your forwarded e-mail before you pass it on.

Quote original messages properly in Replies

Nothing is more wasteful than to reply to an e-mail by including a complete copy of the original with the words “I agree” , “Okay” or “Ditto” at the bottom.

The correct method is to use quoting. When you reply to an e-mail message, you should include that message, but only as much as is necessary to establish the context. As a proper measure, your reply should always be below the quoted text, not above it. That way people will be able to keep track of the original issue.

Do NOT quote back the entire e-mail message as sent to you. This wastes bandwidth and download time. Once you hit your reply command, select the non-essential parts of the original message and delete them.

When sending e-mail to many people – use the Bcc: field

Sending e-mails to many people at once is a cool thing we all like (especially spammers…). However, if you use the To: field or even the Cc: field you will send an e-mail that has all it’s recipients packed up nicely in that field, all ready for the pruning of spammers and other low-life creatures.

Using the Bcc: (Blind Carbon Copy) field is a good way to send your e-mail to many people without having the recipient’s e-mail addresses visible to human eyes, and thus preventing regular e-mail software from being able to reply to all your recipients.

Avoid “Me Too” messages

I don’t care, I don’t want to know, so don’t bother writing back only to tell me that. If you feel you must share your feelings, the least you can do is come up with more content than these 2 words which in fact only waste our time and bandwidth.

Add a descriptive message subject

Make the subject line of your e-mail descriptive of the contents. If you have something you need help with, make sure the recipient will know what you’re talking about by reading the subject line.

Good descriptive subject lines are also good for later archiving and text searching.

Never send messages with blank subject lines, as these will mean nothing to the recipient. You can be 100% sure that any e-mail that does not contain a subject line will automatically be sent to my deleted items folder!

Add a signature to your e-mail but don’t make if flashy

People want to know who it is they’re talking to, and trying to decipher an e-mail address such as [email protected] isn’t very helpful, isn’t it? If your e-mail software supports it, have an auto signature added to every post from you. Be sure to include your first and last name with your e-mail address. If it is business, add your title and/or company name and maybe a phone number with area code.

Do NOT add pictures, logos, animation or any other large attachment to your e-mail unless your company requires them to be present.

Spell check your e-mail

Nothing sends the wrong message like poor spelling. Get a spell checker for your e-mail software if you do not already have one.

Reread and reconsider the whole message before you send it

People might have other perspectives, cultural backgrounds, religious believes and even different gestures – all based upon their country of origin and education. Don’t take your joke for granted.

Please remember that you are sending a text-based communication to possible strangers. They may not know your sarcasm or witty sense of humor like your family and close friends do.

Reread and reconsider the whole message when you return to it, possibly from the recipient’s perspective. Remember that that can be misunderstood in an e-mail message will in fact be misunderstood, no matter how many winking smileys you add.

Conclusion

Use these netiquette rules, remember to treat your fellow humans they way you want to be treated yourself, and keep an open mind.

If you have any comments or additions to this article please feel free to use the feedback page .

Links

Basic Electronic Mail Netiquette

E-Mail Etiquette

Netiquette No Nos

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