Think before you send: E-mail etiquette in the workplace

This article is cross-posted from my professional HR & Safety blog - "Earl Capps On The Job":

Recently, I was asked to put together a short presentation on e-mail etiquette in the workplace for one of my company's workgroups. There's a lot of talk about what to say and not to say in e-mails circulating around so it wasn't hard to put it together, but with a little reading a handful of points become apparent.

The blog Civility and the Workplace shares some useful insights from David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, who wrote the book "Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home", summarizing three key points from their book:
  • Think before you send.
  • Send email you would like to receive.
  • Write email that is so effective that it cuts down on email.
These are certainly three excellent basic rules to follow. From there, everything else is as the legendary Rabbi Hibbel once said of the Jewish Torah, "is just commentary. Go and study it."

Barbara Richman, a human resources consultant writing for Lorman Educational Services Employment and Labor Update, shared ten basic rules for using e-mail in the workplace:


  1. Keep the recipient’s needs in mind when drafting an e-mail (e.g. ease of reading, punctuation, grammar, format, tone).
  2. Recognize that e-mails are only one means of communication, and consider whether another alternative may be more appropriate for the situation at hand (e.g. telephone call, meeting).
  3. Include information in the subject line that is meaningful and makes the e-mail easy to identify, file, and retrieve.
  4. Provide the reader with a brief overview of any important points that you plan to cover at the beginning of the e-mail.
  5. Use punctuation and grammar in accordance with acceptable standards for business communications, and proof for that purpose before sending.
  6. Ensure that your message is in compliance with your organization’s policies (e.g. harassment).
  7. Limit the list of recipients and those copied to persons who are directly involved with the subject and/or have a “need to know.”
  8. Before hitting the send button, check to ensure that your e-mail is addressed to the intended recipient.
  9. Remember that your e-mail can be forwarded and then forwarded again and again without your knowledge.
  10. Ask yourself, “How will I feel tomorrow and what will the repercussions be if my e-mail shows up in newspaper headlines, is discussed on a morning talk show, or appears as evidence in a lawsuit?"
A story in AllBusiness.com provides some more technical, content-focused thoughts on e-mail etiquette, focusing on things such as formatting, attachments and URLs. As with Richman's advice, it's well worth reading.

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