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Email Etiquette: Basic Rules of the Proper Use of Email


In this digital age, email or electronic mail has replaced most use of paper correspondence in both personal and business communications. It is considered fast and easy to send and get a reply as well as more economical and environment friendly (no need to use paper from trees). In my opinion, sending a hard copy of a letter is still more personal, however, because of the many advantages of using email, it is surely here to stay.

If you have an email account and use it regularly, it is important that you know the basics of email etiquette. Whether you like it or not, the message you send reveals something about you. You don't want to send the wrong impression to your recipients, do you? Definitely, especially in business communications. So, it is better to mind your digital manners.

In this hub are listed some of the email etiquette that a regular email user should consider for effective communication. .

Basic Rules of the Proper Use of an Email

As with anything we use, we have to know the essential parts of an email. This portion explains the basic parts of an email and the etiquette that comes along with their usage.

Regarding The Email Recipient | TO, CC or BCC

When composing your email, you put in the TO field the address of the person you intend to send the message. What if you are sending the message to more than one person? Do you send the message to each person one by one? Or Could you just put in all the addresses in the TO field?

For multiple email recipients, you can use the CC and BCC fields. CC means Carbon Copy and BCC means Blind Carbon Copy. If you put the address(es) of the other recipients in the CC field, they will all get the same copy of the email. Not only will they get the same message, but they will also see the list of recipients and addresses on the TO and CC fields.

Many dislike the fact that their email addresses are exposed to the public. To address the issue, it is advised to put the addresses of the other recipients in the BCC field. All the recipients will still get the same message but without the information in the TO and BCC fields.

The CC and BCC should be used appropriately. Send Carbon copy only to people who have direct involvement in the message. Use BCC when sending to a huge list of names, so that the other recipients won't have access to the email addresses of the others. Do not use BCC, however, if you just wish to hide from the person the people you gave copies of the message.

Regarding the Subject Line

It is important to let the recipient know what is the subject of the email. It should reflect the content of the message. Some people use this field to put their short message, sort of like an SMS. This should not be. Also, do not use All Capitals letters in the subject field.

As a courtesy, the word "Long" can be included in the subject line to indicate that the message is long or more than 100 lines.

Regarding Attachments

Before sending any attachment with your message, inform your email recipient about it. Some recipients prefer that they know about the attachment first. Let them know how big the file is. If the file is too large, it is better to send it via file transfer; or it can be cut up into smaller files and attached in several separate emails.

Regarding the Message

What you use as salutation, the length and tone of the message you write largely depends on who your recipient is. Email messages sent to family and friends can have a more personal and relaxed tone. It is common to find many using emoticons or those little faces made up by arranging parentheses, colons, and semi-colons. Some email services already include the emoticons or "smileys" as part of the text editor.

But if you are writing to prospective employers, business associates or professional acquaintances, your email to them would be more formal. Use a salutation like Dear Mr. or Miss or Dr. ____ and not something like Hey ___. Give a warm greeting like Hi, I hope you are well. Messages should be kept brief and straight to the point. It has to have correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. So, be sure to proofread it before you hit the send button.

Regarding the formatting of the message, just as in the subject line, do not use all caps in the message. It would give the impression that your are SHOUTING. If you must use all caps, use it sparingly. Do not use different colors and graphics or even emoticons. Use full sentences and separate paragraphs with a space.

Regarding the Email Signature

At the end of your message, you can also append your email signature. It usually contains up to 4 lines of text which include your contact information (name, mailing address, web site and phone number. In most email clients, the signature can be configured so that it is appended automatically with every email you send.

Smiley. Image by Zoran Ozetsky

Smiley. Image by Zoran Ozetsky

Common Email Abbreviations


RE or Re:

Regarding; usually referring to the subject of the email

FW or FWD or Fw or Fwd

A forwarded copy of the email sent to or by someone else

FYI or Fyi

For your information


By the way


Laughing out loud


Action Required


Talk to you later


In my humble opinion


Not safe for workplace viewing


Be right back


Please find attached


End of message


End of day


As soon as possible


Postscript; something added after the main message

More Email Etiquette: What to Do When ...

Replying to Emails

When replying to email, be brief and address directly the issue concerned. Refrain from going off topic as much as possible. You can quote the original message so that it gives an idea of the previous message. Also, when you reply to emails, especially to group e-mail, be careful that you do not hit the "reply all" button if you're replying only to one person in the group. Unless, of course you intentionally want to send the message to everyone in the group.

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Forwarding Emails

If you want to forward a message you have received, here are a couple of things to remember: 1. Ask permission from the sender if you can forward the message. 2. Do not change anything. 3. If you wish to quote only a part of the message, be sure to include the appropriate attribution.

Sent the Wrong Message

What should you do if you send the wrong message? The best thing to do is to send a follow-up email expressing your apology. Do not recall the message anymore because you don't really know if the recipient has already read the message anyway.

Waiting for a Reply

How long should you wait before sending a follow-up email? Though email is considered as a fast means of communication, you need to give the recipient some time to respond to your email. He or she may be living on the other side of the world where the time is different from yours. So, give it some time, at least 24-48 hours before following up on your first email.

Business or Workplace Email Etiquette

In a business or workplace setting, it is important to remember that the email may not be considered private. It is regarded as company property and may be retrieved by the administrator, especially if there's a need for investigation. There are occasions that some got into trouble because of the improper use of company email.

Here are some business or workplace email etiquette to consider:

1. Refrain from sending messages with inappropriate jokes, sexual content, or racial and harassing comments.

2. If you're sending a personal email, it is better to do it from your home email account.

3. Do not send any message or content over the internet that you do not want to be viewed publicly. These may be forwarded or accidentally sent to unintended audiences. So be very careful.

4, Don't get yourself involved in sending chain letters, virus warnings or junk mails.

5. Know your particular company rules and jargon when it comes to using company emails. Know acronyms like <AR> or "Action Required," <MSR> or the Monthly Status Report and whatever acronyms your company uses.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Chin chin


Chin chin (author) from Philippines on March 09, 2012:

Thanks Melis Ann, MoiraCrochets and Thumbi7 for reading.

JR Krishna from India on March 05, 2012:

We send e mails almost everyday without thinking much about these details.

Thanks for a good reminder on the ettiquettes of email

Moira Durano-Abesmo from Sagay, Camiguin, Philippines on March 05, 2012:

This hub is great. Congratulations Chin2x!

Melis Ann from Mom On A Health Hunt on March 05, 2012:

An important reminder on email etiquette as we get very comfortable with electronic communication.

Chin chin (author) from Philippines on March 05, 2012:

@Jainismus - Tthanks so much. I am glad you found it useful.

@stephhicks68 - I have once used the "reply all" by mistake and it can be really embarrassing. Thanks for reading.

@Simone Smith - It really took some time before email etiquette got established. Now that most use it for business, it is a must to observe the basic email etiquette. Thanks for reading.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on March 05, 2012:

This is fantastic! Because many of us grew up as email was still developing, we didn't exactly grow up knowing what the proper etiquette was... I mean, it didn't exist yet! It's nice that there are more proper email norms now.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on March 05, 2012:

Excellent etiquette tips for business emails. Don't forget to refrain from "reply all," unless absolutely necessary. Super resource - bookmarked and rated up. Best, Steph

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on March 05, 2012:

Chin Chin,

Thank you for sharing this great information, which is very useful for every user of emails. Voted up and shared.

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