Email Etiquette

(Under Development)

This is a document describing email etiquette. Actually, it's about how to use email effectively and not annoy everyone around you. Please feel free to your own observations and suggestions.


Header Semantics

Most email annoyances begin when you select the recipient(s).


The To: Line

The To: line commands a response from every addressee, so populate this line sparsely. A good rule is to To: one person and to Cc: everyone else.

Include multiple addressees on the To: line only when you wish to use email as an informal meeting tool. In that case, make certain that you specifically address each person in the salutation. For example, if you need a response from both Bob Jones and Bill Smith, begin the email with a salutation such as , "BJ & BS," and try to address specific points to each addressee.

Because of the ambiguity of number in English's 2nd person, it's useful to end the email with the tag line such as: "What say you both?" Which emphasizes that a response is expected from both.

The Cc: Line

Before adding someone to the Cc: line, ask yourself this question: "Will anything bad happen if the person doesn't read this email." Most of the time, alas, the answer is a resounding NO! If this is the case, there's little difference between your email and SPAM.

Often someone says to you, "Keep me in the loop on this issue." Does this mean they wish to be Cc:'ed on every correspondence? Probably not, so ask first. Usually, people just want to know about transitional events in a process, not track the process themselves.

Indiscriminate Cc:'ing has another bad side effect: your Cc:'ed email is deleted upon sight, or, in some cases, filtered out altogether. Note that this is precisely the opposite of its intended effect.

The Bcc Line

For those who don't know, a Bcc is a blind copy. It is blind in these sense that, unlike the Cc, it is unseen by the ultimate recipient. It doesn't even appear in the email header to be deciphered by the internet savvy. In any political environment, such as work, the Bcc is inherently dangerous because the sender is, in fact, deceiving the recipient by hiding from him the identities of some of the people in discussion. If the Bcc'd email a Reply' that contains a copy of the email originally sent by the recipient, the recipient's confidentially is being intentionally breached. Make no mistake about it: a Bcc is a kind of treachery. Use it only after great thought.

The Bcc has one non-polictical use: in mailing lists. By addressing your list by the Bcc instead of the Cc, you preserve the anonymity of those on your list. In addition, a huge list of recipients is very annoying to look at in a mail header.

The Subject: Line

Many people organize their work life around email and make it their de facto filing system. For these people, it is essential that the subject field be:

  1. Substantive    Subjects such as "Miscellaneous," or "Thougths" bear no information and therefore are useless for tracking or finding messages.
  2. Unique   Although you may have to send several emails to the same person, try to discuss only one topic per email. This makes tracking the replies simpler.