Do You Make These E-mail Etiquette Mistakes?

By Alyssa Gregory
We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now

emailI love e-mail. I’m pretty sure my productivity would tank if e-mail wasn’t available to help me streamline the way I work. In fact, almost everyone I know uses e-mail – clients, colleagues, family, friends – so it’s easy for me to make it my primary mode of communication.

However, just because e-mail is quick, easy and more informal than a phone call or face-to-face meeting does not mean your e-mail communication should be completely relaxed. If you want to support your reputation as a professional, you should follow general business writing guidelines with all of your written communication, e-mail included.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes I’ve come across in e-mails…how many do you make?

Your e-mail goes on and on…and on.

If your message is more than a screen length and takes more than a couple of minutes to read and digest, it’s probably too long. Try sticking with only one subject per e-mail, and when you do need to include more information, use bolded subheads so the most important details are clear.

Your subject line isn’t descriptive of the message content.

I feel tricked when I open a message from a client that says URGENT in the subject and is marked high priority only to find a minimal non-urgent issue. Write your subject so it explains what the message is about. The recipient should be able to just read the subject and have an idea what’s in the body, how important it is and when they will need to act on it.

You don’t provide any contact information.

I can’t tell you how many e-mails I receive that are signed by a Jim, Sue or Bob with no other identifying information. And on top of that, many times the e-mail addresses used are through free accounts, so there’s no way to track down who exactly sent the message (see the next point for more on this). All initial communication should include your e-mail signature, which typically provides your full name, company, and URL at a minimum. A phone number, title and restating your e-mail address doesn’t hurt either.

You use a non-professional address for business communication.

Gmail is popular. It’s free, it provides easy mobile access, you get lots of storage, and everyone uses it. I understand that. But for me, getting a business related e-mail from a sexybabe756 address is a big business faux pas. Ideally, you should be using a business address (i.e., for business e-mail. If that’s not a possibility, create a free address that won’t hurt your professionalism and still makes a good first impression.

There are numerous spelling errors.

Spell checking is easy. Make it a default setting in your e-mail client to check all messages before you send them. Yes, e-mail is more informal and there is a little more leniency with spelling and grammatical errors, but it looks awful to send a message riddled with errors. And please, save the trendy abbreviations (thx, plz, u) for Twitter or text messages.

The tone of your message is questionable.

Some conversations are not meant to be conducted via e-mail because it’s not always easy to convey a certain tone in e-mail like it is in verbal communication. Being terse, criticizing, or even a failed attempt at a joke can make the recipient feel attacked and disrespected. If your message tone is a little rough (re-read it to make sure), or even just comes off that way to the recipient, you’re probably better of picking up the phone. And it’s never a good idea to send a message written in the heat of the moment when your anger may be at full boil. Take some time to cool off before hitting send.

I admit, I tend to be a little too verbose in some of my messages. I’ve found that going away from the e-mail for a little while and then coming back, re-reading and editing is extremely helpful. Now it’s your turn…how many of these mistakes are you guilty of?

Image credit: Salman Rana

We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now
  • Great article.

    One of the most common e-mail etiquette I notice is ALL CAPS (screaming) and adding yuor entire address book in your CC.

  • Alicia

    I like gmail, I can’t function with out it. This is why I have my business email and various other sites I own hooked up to google apps. It gives me a professional looking email and I get to use the tools I can’t work with out.

  • I beg to differ in your opinion Alyssa. I find that emails are very formal and infact many times more formal than speaking on the phone. If written properly, email serves as a formal request or a communication between two parties. It is archived as evidence and proof when it is written in emails. Many times after casually speaking with the boss, the client, or the customer, I like to follow up with an email to detail what we’ve talked and agreed about formally. So thats my view on that.

    Going back to the question of this article; I probably only make a few spelling mistake here and there when I am not paying attention but other than that, my emails “should” be spot on in terms of structure/urgency…etc…

  • deanloh

    What irks me the most almost at all time: the sender looked up for previous email and hit reply to begin; although the content of the email is totally irrelevant to the subject. How difficult it is to compose a new email with a subject line?!

  • Blaxter

    All people using top-posting deserve to die painfully.

  • M

    * You don’t provide any contact information.
    I would not agree that this is a good point. If it is necessary to provide the recipient your contact information, you should do it. But including contact information as a “signature” in all emails without any discretion is asking for disaster. Emails, once sent, go to various places we wouldn’t even have thought about (through replies and forwards). providing detailed contact information is a strict no-no unless it is necessary. But then, someone who takes the time and effort to follow the other points would know this anyway and be prudent about it.

    * You use a non-professional address for business communication.
    The good thing about GMail is that Google Apps comes for free and can be linked to your own domain. People who don’t want to spend a lot can just buy a domain name and create email addresses that can be managed and used through the Google Apps infrastructure. is where you need to go.

  • Hmm, here are a few ones:

    1. Writing a long-winded email when drafting a reference document would have been more appropriate.

    2. Using email to communicate on a project with several people… and including people half-way through the conversation, or replying to just one person by mistake, etc. This mistake could be summarized as: using email for group communication. It’s not the right tool for this, although sometimes you end up using email anyway because it’s the tool people are used to and do use.

    For a business-looking address, if you’re a freelancer, you may want to set up as an alias, pointing to a Gmail account, and configure Gmail to use that alias when sending emails. I don’t know if this can be done with other webmail providers.

  • Lack of email ‘manners’ drives me up the wall.

    I’d rather a long winded descriptive email than a one word (which can often seem quite rude) answer.

    I always treat emails like writing a letter, with all the pleases and thank yous that go with that.

  • wwb_99

    Two little things that drives me nuts, especially in this day of mobile devices are:

    a) Email with just an attachment and no description. Especially if it is an attachment my mobile device can’t understand.

    b) Emails where people use colors to mark answers interpspersed with the questions. I don’t get colors on the blackberry making it impossible to read the responses.

    Other, more general issue is that one shouldn’t be emailing me bug reports. We have a bug tracking system for that. Use it.

  • MikesBarto2002

    How about the one where people send you an email and all that it says is “Thanks.” This is the biggest waste of my time. I would rather get thanked at the end of another email as a side note: “By the way, thanks again for blah blah blah.” I can’t tell you how many of these I get each day.

  • Sooo many people don’t realize how much tone plays a role in emails… many people try to be funny or cute via email and since you can’t hear tone in an email, usually these communications come across feeling just wrong. Suggestion: read your email fully before hitting send and if that little voice in your head does a double take on one of your comments, be sure you’re saying it how you should be saying it before hitting send.

    Ethan Bull

  • Nice article. I hate when you receive an email reply that doesn’t answer all questions you’ve made. This imply further e-mails for the unanswered questions…

  • You can use your personal address for communicating with clients, but you have to link the email account, for business purposes, from your mail preferences.
    So when you write an email, you have the option to choose from which email address you want to send the message. All incoming email to your business account can be forwarded to the personal one, of course.

    Would have been nice to be included this useful tip in article, as well.

  • Spell checking is easy.

    you’re probably better of picking up the phone

    Of course, spelling checkers have trouble picking up some errors, like the missing ‘F’ in the line above, but nice juxtaposition there!

    I have to disagree with some of the comments above; it so often comes down to circumstances – top-posting is not nearly so much of a crime as copying someone in on the middle of a conversation without giving them the full story.

    And if you are greatful for something, there is no excuse for not saying so at the time – too often it can look like you are buttering someone up if you add your thanks to the next message, and you never know when the recipient may need your confirmation.