The 7 Commandments of Email Etiquette Everyone Should Follow

You might want to (politely) forward this to any offenders on your contact list.

Whether or not your correspondence is personal or professional, we’re all guilty of committing an email faux pas from time to time. (If only you could delete the memory of forwarding that inappropriate email to the wrong person!) The next time you draft a message for the masses, follow these commandments of email etiquette to avoid a cringe-worthy communication mishap.

01 of 07

Reply All With Caution

“Do not reply all unless every single person on that distribution list needs to know what you need to say,” says Aimee Symington, CEO of Finesse Worldwide. She suggests reviewing the names on the list and replying only to those who actually require your response. That may mean replying to just the sender or three of the seven recipients. And if your manager or colleague wants to be copied on something, respect her request.

Thoughtful replies can save others time. “Whether it’s for business or social reasons, people will start getting annoyed by a stream of insignificant emails because they have to stop to open them,” says Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas. So think twice before replying all with “Can’t make it,” the next time you’re invited to brunch.

02 of 07

Never Leave a Subject Line Blank

A good subject line helps recipients prioritize email, says Lizzie Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. Whatever you do, don’t leave it blank. When crafting a subject line, make it specific and concise, and watch your spelling and grammar. “It’s the first thing a person notices,” Post says.

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Because a subject line should reflect the content of the email, experts recommend updating the subject line as the conversation flows. Avoid subject lines that might downplay an email’s urgency (think: “quick question” to headline a major work problem) or cause someone to miss a message she thinks she has already read, explains Gottsman. She suggests starting a new thread if an email has strayed too far from the original message.

03 of 07

Respond Promptly

While experts don’t agree on a proper response time for emails, they do concur that just about every email deserves an answer. If a simple response (“Got it, thanks” or “Sounds like a good plan”) will suffice, try to reply as soon as you read an email.

Sometimes an email will require information that could take several days to gather—but that doesn't mean you're allowed to leave people hanging. “Let them know you received their email and will get back when you can,” says Symington.

And remember to use an auto-reply message if you’re traveling or out of the office, she adds, so others know they shouldn’t expect a response.

04 of 07

Forward With Caution

“Make sure you’re forwarding to the right people for the right reasons,” says Post. Before you forward, evaluate the sensitivity of the content—that includes any attachments and the names and contact info of everyone associated with the message. Some people would prefer that their contact info remain private. If a thread contains too many detailed points of a discussion, start a fresh email.

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05 of 07

Tell Someone If She’s Been Hacked

We’ve all been there. A virus takes hold and before we know it, we’re spamming Grandpa with links that would make anyone blush. If you receive what’s obviously a virus, notify the victim who might not be privy to what’s going on. “Just say, ‘I wanted to let you know this is happening,’” Symington says. “That’s a nice thing to do.”

06 of 07

Respect the Art of Emailing

You care about making a good impression in person, so why not hold your email persona to the same standard? “Email is a reflection of you and should be written like a letter more than a text, while still keeping in mind brevity,” says Symington. Check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. All caps indicate you’re yelling, and all lowercase implies you’re lazy. Too many fonts, colors, and smiley faces can be irritating, she adds.

Be friendly without trying to overdo the humor. “Err on the side of caution even if you have a sense of humor,” says Gottsman. The tone is too often muddled in emails, and you don’t want to come off as unprofessional because someone doesn’t get your joke.

07 of 07

Remember: No Email at Dinner

It’s one thing if you’re having a casual meal with a significant other (and date night is tomorrow), but absolutely don’t check email at a dinner party, says Post. As for meetings at the office, it depends. If colleagues bring phones or laptops to conference rooms to access email during meetings, then it’s probably fine. “Be aware that company cultures are going to have different policies around email,” she says. “Know the nature of email at your work in order to be appropriate.”

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