Email etiquette at work

February 25, 2013

Based on a writing tip I wrote recently for my work colleagues.


Brad asked:

Do you have any information on etiquette/guidelines/best practise for emails, specifically when not to CC people who may have been on an original email? I see a lot of emails that start off as a simple one-way communication, i.e. not necessarily expecting a conversation, where people are CC’ed (managers or supervisors usually) that then escalates into a back and forth discussion, not necessarily in a bad way, but where all original participants are retained.

Good question, Brad.

Below I’ve compiled a list of etiquette rules for internal email that I gleaned from several websites that deal with this question (see the links at the end). I haven’t ranked them in any particular order, and I haven’t expanded too much on any of them as they should be self-explanatory (if you need more detail, see the links):

  • Begin with a simple greeting, and end with ‘Thanks’, ‘Regards’ or similar as well as your signature (set up an automated signature in Outlook 2007 by going to Tools > Options > Mail Format tab > Signatures button)
  • Make sure the subject line reflects the contents of the email
  • Be as concise as possible; use bullet points or short paragraphs, with just one idea per paragraph or bullet point
  • Ask permission before forwarding another person’s email
  • Reply in a timely fashion
  • Send personal emails from your PERSONAL account, not the company’s
  • All work email (even deleted mail) is the property of the company and is NOT private
  • Don’t send chain mail, forwards, hoaxes, jokes, or other unprofessional emails to your work colleagues (see link below for urban legends and hoaxes)
  • Before clicking ‘Send’, re-read your message and check the list of recipients. Check the recipients again – do they ALL need to get the email?
  • Don’t ‘Reply all’ out of habit – ‘Reply’ is usually sufficient; if you do ‘Reply all’, check the list of recipients first and delete those who don’t need the information
  • Delete any unwanted ‘threads’ in the email before replying  – only reply to what you’ve been asked; trim out the unnecessary bits of previous conversations
  • Don’t send huge attachments – link to the document or folder on the network instead; typically, you can’t attach files to an email that are more than about 5 MB in total
  • Use standard English and punctuation; use acronyms sparingly; avoid sarcasm and irony as they don’t translate well in words; avoid emoticons (smileys) and ‘text-speak’; curb your use of exclamation points
  • Use standard fonts, font sizes, colours, and sentence case
  • Use the CC line for those who need to get a copy of the email, but who aren’t the main recipient; use the BCC line for those whose email addresses you don’t want to disclose (don’t forget – assume that every email you send from the company account is NOT private, whether you use BCC or not); be judicious in who you add to the CC/BCC lists – not everyone has to see everything, and ‘reply all’ threads become very cumbersome
  • If you and the recipient are in a long email chain trying to get your message understood, pick up the phone and call them, or meet them face to face
  • Set up Inbox folders and learn how to use ‘rules’ to route emails into those folders (Tools > Rules and Alerts)

More information:

[Links last checked February 2013]


  1. I would add to your list the use of words like “not for circulation” “Confidential” in subject lines when you need them
    And don’t forget to spell checkk even if you use abbrev.

  2. Another (good) behaviour which is gaining currency within our organisation is that for really short notifications, where you can fit all that needs to be said in the subject line, do just that and use .
    eg “Fred sick, working from home today, available on mobile”. Then people know there’s no body to read and they can delete the message as soon as they’ve read the subject.
    Also – links instead of attachments are great, but be sure to use an absolute address rather than a mapped network drive, because not all users may share the same mappings.

  3. Hi guys,

    Do also consider when you’re sending emails. It’s not cool to send emails on weekends & evenings since everyone is now hooked up to their emails via tablets & smartphones. If you’re the boss, your staff could interpret it as you giving them new jobs/tasks for the weekends.

    Using the Delay Delivery feature of Outlook is a really neat way to get around this. I’ve written a blog post that shows you how this can be done. http://bit.ly/NyPGe3

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