The 10 Commandments of Good E-mail


Based on feedback from readers as well as from people with whom I’ve had conversations, it seems my previous columns on “respect” pressed a nerve. I had several debates over whether “respect” is something that we have to earn or we should expect. And while opinions differed on just what constitutes “respect,” most people I’ve spoken with believe that at work they don’t get the respect they deserve.

Interestingly, a recurring complaint revolves around the volume of annoying and disrespectful e-mails people receive. Many of you feel overwhelmed with poorly written, rude-in-tone e-mails.

E-mail is a great communication tool when used properly. However, when used inappropriately it can cause communication problems and unnecessary stress.

Here are 10 tips to reduce e-mail confusion:

  1. E-mail should not be used as a substitute for face-to-face conversations. The tone of an email can easily be misunderstood since e-mail lacks the verbal and visual cues of a conversation. Problems and issues should be discussed in person or on the phone and not via e-mail.
  2. Don’t write in ALL CAPS as it’s cyber shouting.
  3. Never send an email when you’re angry. Take time to cool down and re-read the email to make sure it doesn’t say anything you’ll regret later.
  4. Respond promptly to e-mails asking for your assistance. If you aren’t able to help the person immediately, let them know when you can give them the help they’ve requested.
  5. Use the “reply all” button only when “all” need to know the info you’re sending. If you receive an email that was sent to a group of people, reply only to those who require a response. Oftentimes the only person who needs a response is the sender.
  6. Copy only those people who really need to know the information in the e-mail.
  7. Send an e-mail to confirm and/or document decisions made in a face-to-face meeting. This will prove helpful if there are any misunderstandings down the road.
  8. Never put “No Subject” in the subject line. The subject line indicates both the content and importance of the e-mail. Keep it brief, specific, and relevant, or the receiver might not open the e-mail or may even delete without reading it!
  9. Think twice before sending humorous messages. A “funny” e-mail may seem funny to you, but it could insult someone else. E-mails that may be perceived as insulting, harassing, or biased could be forwarded to others without your knowledge. Don’t send anything you wouldn’t want posted for all to see.
  10. Don’t be a nuisance. If you don’t receive a response after sending an e-mail, either send a different e-mail explaining why you’re following up, or call the person.

Please send your questions to JP Reynolds at: 

Follow me on Twitter: @jprweddings

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