Although it’s been around for more than 20 years, we’re still learning the dos and don’ts of email etiquette.
We’ve all received an email that – although silent save for the sound of a mouse click – screamed so loudly to our sense of common courtesy that we wanted to fire back with a combination of all caps and angry emoticons.
Workplace email blunders are so common that this post could have been twice as long. But just like emails shouldn’t be mistaken for a great American novel, we’ll keep this to 11 of the worst offenders.
1. Non-descriptive subject lines
Emails titled “Hi” might have been fine as a teenager on AOL, but in a professional work setting, non-descriptive subject lines are not quite up to par. Your recipients will most likely prioritize opening their emails based on the subject lines alone, so you have a lot of competition in getting your email to the top of the list.
2. Forwarding chain emails
Speaking of AOL, remember when chain emails were a thing? It should go without saying that spamming your coworkers with forwarded emails (however hilarious they may be) is a big no-no. It wastes their time and decreases your credibility in the process.
3. Not giving a proper greeting
We don’t talk to people without greeting them first, so we shouldn’t make that mistake in email. Judith Kallos, email etiquette expert, warns us that an email without proper greetings and closings can come off as terse and demanding.
4. Being tone deaf
Much like a choir member who can’t quite hit the high notes, being tone deaf in email can easily misrepresent the sender’s intentions. Since we can’t rely on body language and vocal inflections to convey meaning, our words and punctuation must be chosen carefully to make sure nothing gets misinterpreted.
5. Using abbreviations
Using abbreviations might be fine to use if you’re texting a friend that “ur going 2 B late,” but there is no place for that kind of informal shorthand in a professional email. Even spelling words out, such as “appointment” instead of “appt,” shows recipients that you’re not using shortcuts to rush the email along.
6. Using all caps
All caps is the equivalent to shouting, so unless you would shout your email to someone in person, you should not use all caps. If you want to emphasize a certain word or point, opt instead to use less aggressive options, such as italics or bold.
7. Spelling and grammatical errors
Spellcheck is one of the greatest inventions of the digital era. It gives us virtually no excuse to send an email off laden with errors that could potentially undermine our credibility. If your email service has no integrated spellcheck, copy and paste it into a Word doc and use the spellcheck there.
8. Playing fast and loose with “Reply All”
There is a time and a place for “Reply All,” and that time and place includes everyone on the “To” list being interested in or needing the information you’re sending them. Many people make the dreaded mistake of hitting “Reply All” instead of “Reply,” causing information meant to be seen by one set of eyes seen by dozens.
9. Sending potentially incriminating emails
We really have no control what someone decides to do after receiving our email. Whether their intentions are good or otherwise, they could forward it onto our higher-ups and inadvertently get us into trouble. The best thing to do is to simply avoid putting anything in writing that we would not want coming back to bite.
10. Writing novel-length emails
As mentioned in the introduction, emails are meant to be read fairly quickly. People are busy; they don’t have time to drop everything and read an inbox full of 700-word emails when they get to work in the morning. Don’t make the mistake of getting carried away in a long-winded, stream-of-consciousness style email that could have had been downsized to a few concise sentences.
11. Overbearing email signatures
Just like your email should be clear and to the point, so should your signature. Using multiple graphics and logos (that won’t always convert and instead render as attachments), larger-than-life font sizes, too much contact information and maybe even a few motivational quotes can look messy and unprofessional.