By following a few basic e-mail guidelines, we can all get along better online. Remember, there is another person on the other side of that screen – you don’t know how they might take that message!
In addition, some of the following guidelines will help keep your e-mail out of spam boxes (as some spam filters check for some of the things on this list).
- Check your e-mail at least once a day (if possible). If it isn’t possible, check it as often as possible. Add it to your daily routine; in most cases, it doesn’t take that long.
- When/If you receive an e-mail, don’t let it sit – respond. If it asks you to do something, do what you will, but let whomever you are communicating with know. If it asks for information you don’t know, do what you will, but let them know. Otherwise, they may make the presumption that you haven’t received the message, which can be annoying for both parties.
- Avoid using all caps. This makes it seem like you are shouting. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t scream about it at the top of your lungs in public or in a room full of crowded people (including your parents), it isn’t something you should allcaps. If a topic is important or requires special attention, just say so (or use things such as italics, bold, or underlined text; you can also use a combination of them). If you need to send a plaintext e-mail, you may need to use allcaps, but send it as a plain text e-mail (see bottom for plaintext explanation).
- Avoid sending repeat messages on a certain subject in a short period of time (without receiving a reply). If it is a subject that you are waiting for information on, wait. If an e-mail that was previously sent has more information to be added (or be corrected), send only the changes; long e-mails tend to not be read.
- Limit the size of your message. If it needs to contain lots of specific details, put a summary (commonly called a TL;DR [to long; didn’t read]). By doing this, you insure that they will get the important stuff out of your e-mail, while still being able to get the specifics if they need to.
- Cut up your paragraphs and use formatting tools (like bullet points) to make your writing look more “inviting”. Long bits of text are often not read.
- Be aware of your limits. Many providers rate-limit your outbound e-mails; hitting your limit can cause problems (see bottom).
- Use TO for indicating the primary recipient(s) of an e-mail.
- Use CC for indicating the secondary (or additional) recipient(s) of an e-mail (see bottom).
- Use BCC when you wish to send to a large group, not CC (or to; see bottom). Do not use BCC solely for political reasons (ex. not wanting someone to know that another received it).
- Remember that e-mails can’t be taken back, and that the recipient (in most cases) can prove that it was really you whom sent it. In most countries, e-mails can be used as evidence in a court of law – they aren’t anonymous.
- Be sparing with reply-all; only use it if everyone needs to know what you are saying. Additional mail only makes people more annoyed.
- Use the subject field to tell about content and purpose, not origin or importance. We’re all human – we can judge for ourselves how important a message is by the subject, if it is formatted correctly. Don’t use things like “important” or “action required” (unless it is a matter of legal consequence); if it is time sensitive, just say so.
- Don’t forward hoaxes – while I’ve seen less of this on modern mail providers, no one wants to spend time reading them. They also commonly harbor malicious code.
- Run up-to-date antivirus and antimalware software on any computer you use to access your e-mail. Keeping a secure password and using dual factor authentication (if available) is a courtesy to your fellow e-mail users – by keeping your account secure, you are keeping spam out of their inbox.
- Don’t send more than 3 attachments per e-mail – if you have a large quantity of files to send, consider zipping them first. Sending them via a cloud storage provider is fine, provided the recipient already has an account or has agreed to get one on said storage provider.
- Don’t reply to spam. Don’t click on links in spam (including unsubscribe links, unless you trust the company). In most cases, it is best not to open it all.
- Don’t use e-mail to avoid communication. Face-to-face should still be used, especially in non-normal situations. Remember, with an e-mail, no one can hear your tone – avoid things such as sarcasm.
CC’ing is used for adding someone to an e-mail. Whom an e-mail is to is the primary recipient; whom is CC’d is considered the “secondary” recipient (even though there is no time difference).
BCC‘ing someone in an e-mail hides the addresses from everyone else whom it is sent to (ex. If email@example.com BCC’s an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, neither alice nor bob know that the other received it). It should be used for sending e-mails to large groups. If you need to identify who is receiving the e-mail, do so by identifying the group within the e-mail (ex. “Note to IT Department -“). As stated above, don’t use BCC just to hide the fact that someone else received the message, as this isn’t polite.
Normally, I’d suggest trying to keep to plaintext. However, I don’t know of any (popular) e-mail client which doesn’t support HTML formatted e-mails – as is, the big free providers (such as gmail, outlook, yahoo, etc.) are all very supporting of it. Therefore, I wouldn’t worry about it.
As stated above, many providers limit the amount of e-mails you may send.
Google: 500 recipients per message if you are using the Web Interface, 100 if you are using a desktop client (ex. Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.), unknown per day/hour
Windows Live (Hotmail): 100 recipients per message, 300 e-mails per day
Yahoo!: 100 recipients per message, 500 e-mails per day
Version: 100 recipients per message, 500 e-mails per hour
Comcast: 100 recipients per message, 1000 e-mails per day
AT&T: 50 recipients per message, unknown per day/hour
Charter: 50 recipients per message, unknown per day/hour
If you ever abandon or change e-mails: set up an auto reply (sometimes called a “Vacation Reply”) that gives off your new e-mail and explains the situation. If you are abandoning the address due to spam, protect it with a reCAPTCHA. Do not completely abandon an inbox for at least two years. Alternatively, simply forward all mail from the old inbox to your new one.
Confidentiality Notices – there really isn’t a legal precedent for them, so they may or may not be valid. Remember that where you are does not matter if they are outside of your jurisdiction (ex. sending an e-mail to a foreign nation).
Privacy – No encryption is foolproof. If you wish to avoid blanket surveillance, you can do so using one of a few methods. ProtonMail does this automatically; another nice alternative is PGP