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Email Etiquette: A Refresher Course

Updated on December 31, 2018

Emails Say The Darndest Things

As the year winds down, I find myself reflecting over the ball-and-chain at my job that I've come to both love and hate. I'm talking of course about email. For those of you who don't know, I'm an account executive (whipping boy) for a cosmetics/personal care distributor. Throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season a constant stream of discontented, hate-filled ooze seeps through my inbox (You know the pink stuff from Ghostbusters II....yeah something like that). At times the ooze will emanate from discontented customers, suppliers, angry colleagues or any combination of the three. At other times it is simply the result of irritating spam or people who choose to wear their heart on their fingertips.

Therefore, I think it's now time to remind everyone about the importance of good online manners. Below I have outlined a few common email gaffes that still persist despite humanity's best efforts. I've also taken the courtesy of providing examples, taken directly from my own harrowing experiences on the job.

Mind The Tone of Your Email

Sometimes it's not what you say but how you say it. It's a little something people call tone of voice. But of course we're talking about email so it's a very tricky subject. I know that when I read emails from people that I really know, I tend to read them in the voice/tone of the sender. So what happens when (as is the case with many work related emails) the sender and receiver don't know each other. Or better yet, what if they know each other too well. Here's a little exchange between me and a client (Barbara) to drive my point home:

Barbara: Good Morning Justin,

I've been trying to reach you for two days now to no avail. Don't you want our business? Do you care whether our customers receive their anti-dandruff armpit balms? I'll have you know, flaky armpits are no laughing matter sir. Just ask Mrs. Cunningham who must now use the balms after shedding a frightening amount of skin with the use of your company's soaps. I expect this matter to be rectified ASAP.

Warm Regards,


Me: Hello Barbara,

You are as funny as ever. I especially like the bit about "Mrs. Cunningham." I hope that "she" is ok. As for myself, I've been out of the office with a really bad stomach flu. I will see the production manager today, see if we can get that armpit slop out to you sooner. Meanwhile, dunk "Mrs Cunningham" in a vat of lotion...that should do the trick.


Barbara: Hey Justin,

Actually, Mrs. Cunningham is a real person. It seems she had a horrible skin reaction to your honey-based cleanser. She's kinda pissed by your last email and she wants to file a complaint with your claims department. Sorry, my bad.


Me: Wait, what!

Double and Triple Check Your To, Cc and Bcc Boxes

I don't think this one needs much explanation. I'm sure we've all sent sent a regrettable email or two because we didn't take a minute or two to think "wait, maybe grandma wouldn't appreciate this attachment of me burning a Nativity scene." But hey, you live and you learn...and get brick bricks thrown through your window by local clergymen.

Point is, you can probably save yourself a lifetime of grief and despair by checking over the To:, Cc:, and Bcc boxes. Not intending to sound violent, but I always imagine sending an email to be akin to shooting a firearm. You don't pull the trigger/hit the send button unless you really mean it. Just make sure the right message gets to the right person.

And then there are those of us who just emerged from a soundproof cave and don't seem to know the difference between reply and reply-to-all. First of all, let me say that I think you guys are responsible for annoying chain mails, the proliferation of spam, computer viruses, global warming and Rebecca Black. Now please look up the difference between the two and then watch the commercial below.


For Tha Luve ov God, Use Spell Chekk

I don't mean to nit-pick, but bad spelling is one of my pet peeves. And I don't mean the "c u l8tr" texting variety that has English teachers shouting "murderer." I'm talking about the kind of misspelling that makes me question the sender's ability to see properly. Here's a small sample of the misspelled emaales that I receive every three weeks or so. Emails are slightly altered...for obvious reasons.

Hi Guys,

You know ive got for pales of raw material here in my warhouse. But we have a problem. One pale is damanaged and anoter has the wrong mattereal iside. Pleese call me ASAP to recktifi this situation.



Even if you truly can't spell, is it too much to ask you to use spell checker. It's probably one of the the most useful and thoughtful technologies ever made. Yes, it will give the occasional weird suggestion, but you'll probably still be better off than Bono.

Rules of Attachement: Attaching Files The Right Way.

Another gadfly in the ears of many email users is the lack of consideration given to attachments. Whether attaching a file, image or or video clip; there are a few basic rules that many of us don't follow....myself included.

Send the appropriate size:

Sending the appropriately sized attachment is very important. It means the difference between easily managed emails and annoying download times/hiccups. In the process of sending an video or some other large file, make sure to either compress the file or break it up into multiple chunks. You can use a compression tool such as Winrar to accomplish this little task.

Try your best to send the right file type:

Let's say your working on a project involving only the use of excel files. Your not going to send a file containing word documents are you? Make sure the file type you send can mesh with the software on the receiver's system. Otherwise, you might have an exchange like the one I had with a graphic's artist below:

Me: Hey Mike

I've attached a few large high resolution labels that I need resized and resent to me by tomorrow at 2:00PM. I really need your help on this project as we are now three days away from our deadline. Please see attached file []. (into which I accidentally compressed non-viral .exe files.)

Mike: What do you think I'm stupid. I'm not falling for that. These are .exe files. @#$k you dude.

Me: Wait, it was a mistake.....oh forget it.

Give your attachments good names:

This is especially true if you are sending multiple files. Why? Because there is a small irritation associated with sorting through 12 generically named files while looking for the one that you actually need. (You'll never get those 10 seconds of your life back.) So do everyone a favor and use a sensible naming convention.

And Now For a Review

1: Check the tone of your email:

Remember email doesn't convey emotion very well. So unless you feel comfortable using emoticons on the job, take a minute to see how warped your words truly are.

2: Double and triple check the send boxes:

Think twice before you send that....whatever it is. Is it going to the right person/people? Is it appropriate, controversial, private, top secret.

3: Please use spellchecker:

We're not asking to you to be state spelling bee champion. We just want respectable/readable messages in our in-boxes. Don't let your pride get in the way...use spell checker.

4: Rule of Attachment:

Just be keenly aware of the attachment's -- size, file type and name.


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