Number. 6 © CDTL 2001
Email Etiquette
Mr Glen Keith O’Grady
Former Senior Educational Development Specialist, CDTL

Email is a tool that we almost take as much for granted as we do the telephone. However, its wide use as a communication tool necessitates us stopping and thinking about what is appropriate behaviour when using this mode of communication. Listed below are some guidelines for emailing that can help you avoid the embarrassing situation of unwittingly committing communication faux pas as well as get the most out of this valuable tool:

  • Write your message clearly. As email does not convey emotions as well as face-to-face or even telephone conversations, your correspondent may have difficulty telling if you are serious or kidding, happy or sad, frustrated or euphoric. Be cautious, particularly, when using sarcasm and humour.
  • The best way to avoid misunderstandings due to missed signals is to give email correspondents the benefit of the doubt and seek clarification.
  • You should also be aware of when you can be sloppy and when you have to be meticulous. An email to your lecturer that is full of spelling mistakes and gross punctuation errors is hardly going to impress him.
  • When you are upset or angry, learn how to use the “postpone” command in your head. Review the message only after you have had time to calm down.
  • Do not send abusive, harassing or threatening messages, and chain messages requesting recipients to forward the information to other people. Use email in a professional manner, as you cannot control where your message might be sent.
  • Do not leave your email account open when you leave your computer. Anyone could send out libellous, offensive or embarrassing messages in your name.
  • Do not send replies to all recipients unless there is a very specific need for everyone to receive the message. It wastes disk space, clutters up in-boxes and annoys people.
  • When replying, keep messages brief and to the point. It is important to remember that some people receive hundreds of email messages a day.
  • You may see email messages with many exclamation points at the end of a sentence for added emphasis. However, if something is important it should be reflected more in your text than in your punctuation.
  • In the quest to save keystrokes, users have traded clarity for confusion (unless you understand the abbreviations). Some of the more common abbreviations are listed below:
    BCNU be seeing you
    by the way
    for your information
    rolling on the floor laughing
    ta ta for now
    TTYL talk to you later

    Use abbreviations that are already common to the English language, such as “FYI” and “BTW”. Beyond that, you run the risk of confusing your recipient.
  • Since there are no visual or auditory cues in email, users have come up with something called “smilies”. Here are some examples:
  • A set of mental abilities, and
    smiley face
    wink (light sarcasm)
    frown (anger or displeasure)
    :-O yell

    They are typically found at the end of sentences and usually refer back to the prior statement. You should use these sparingly as there are many of them and their translations are by no means universal.
  • When replying, it is unnecessary to reproduce a message in its entirety. Include enough of the original message to place your response in context. This is particularly useful if the other person may not read your response for a day or two.
  • Do not assume that what you see on your screen is exactly what your correspondent will get on his. The software and hardware that you use may be completely different from what your correspondent uses.
  • A clear and relevant subject line will help readers mentally shift into the proper context before reading your message. The subject line should be brief and does not need to be a complete sentence.
  • Remember that all laws governing copyright, defamation, discrimination and other forms of written communication also apply to email.
  • Even if you do not have time to make a full response to an email message, at least acknowledge receipt of it, and give the sender a time frame as to when you will be able to get back to him.
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