Some simple email netiquette

Annoying animated GIF of a cat turning into a bogbrushMost people probably don’t mean to be annoying. But some people – even those who you’d expect would know better – do the most stupid things online sometimes. Even something as apparently straightforward as sending an email has the potential to spoil the recipient’s day.

Here’s some simple email netiquette to help you avoid driving your correspondents up the wall.

Did you get my email? Did you? Did you?

Have you ever received an email where as soon as you open it, a box pops up telling you that the sender’s asked to be notified that you’ve read the email, and asking you whether you want to notify them?

This “facility” can be quite useful in a working environment (where the boss may reasonably want confirmation that everyone’s read a circular, for instance). It’s little more than an irritation outside. Many people resent it as an invasion of their privacy – and a particularly futile one, given that it’s perfectly possible to click the “No” button and refuse to confirm receipt. We recommend you don’t use it.

Sending an email to several people at once

If you’re sending the same email to several people, please DON’T put all their email addresses in the “To” box. If you do, all your recipients will see all those email addresses.

There are two reasons why this is a bad thing:

  • Security: the more machines an email address is copied to, the more chances that address has of being harvested by spammers or targeted by viruses
  • Privacy: some or all of your correspondents may not wish to share their email addresses with others

Instead, send the email to yourself and put your intended recipients’ email addresses into the “Bcc” (blind copy) box. That way, the only two email addresses your recipients will see are yours and their own.

Keep in trim

If you’re replying to a posting in a mailing list – or indeed to an email which is part of an ongoing discussion – please consider carefully how much of the preceding discussion you need to quote in your reply.

It’s very easy to hit the reply button and write and send your own posting, forgetting that there have been several postings before yours which are all reproduced just below what you’ve typed. But this is bad practice, for at least three reasons:

  • It doesn’t look neat.
  • The reader has to scroll down to find out what the posting is replying to.
  • It makes for very long emails, particularly once you’ve got beyond the third posting – by which time you’ve got the third posting twice, the second one three times, and the original posting four times!

So do your reader(s) a favour – trim the unneeded repeat emails from your reply. Remember, if you don’t you’ll only get them all again when someone else posts…

Of course in some cases it’s helpful to be reminded of what’s gone before. That’s fine. But do think about it rather than just doing it without thinking. Is it necessary or even helpful to have all the earlier stuff included (again)?

By the way, the same applies with forum postings and private messages – a little of what has gone before can be useful to establish the context of what you’re saying or as a reminder of what’s gone before, but great screeds repeating what people have already read is just annoying.

Background reading

Many email programs offer fancy backgrounds (“stationery”) which you can use to make your emails look (supposedly) more attractive.

Actually, there are lots of good reasons not to bother with them:

  • Most of them are pretty naff;
  • Using them makes it look as if you’ve only just discovered email and are playing around with all the pretty pictures;
  • They’re a distraction from what you’ve written;
  • They come as an attachment to your message, which will (or should) set your recipient’s anti-virus alarm bells ringing;
  • If your reader receives email in plain text only (which quite a lot of email users do) he or she will never see the picture anyway.

If you’re using email for business rather than pleasure, then don’t touch “stationery” with a bargepole – it’s tantamount to committing professional suicide. If it’s a personal email, then it’s up to you, if you’re the sort of person who has friends who like pictures of fluffy kittens or ivy up the edge of their notepaper.

Fortunately, “stationery” seems to have largely fallen out of favour these days – and no wonder. (Would that the same could be said for animated GIFs in email signatures, to which all the above comments apply.)

Danger, Will Robinson!

Even though most email users these days have anti-virus programs installed, from time to time messages appear warning about a new virus that’s doing the rounds and imploring you to forward the message to all your contacts.

Ignore them. They’re hoaxes. The only positive thing they might achieve is to encourage the few people who don’t have anti-virus software to get some. But the “threats” they’re warning about are usually non-existent. And the more malicious of them give bogus instructions on how to “protect” your machine… and if you follow them, you’ll end up deleting system-crucial files.

Excess baggage

In these days of broadband, when multi-megabyte files can be downloaded in a matter of minutes or even seconds, it’s very tempting to send them to all your pals.

Resist that temptation. There are several reasons why sending unsolicited attachments is a bad idea:

  • The size of most people’s mailboxes is limited. Sure, some of the webmail providers offer storage in the gigabyte range. But conventional email addresses come with much smaller storage space; 10 megabytes is by no means uncommon. It only takes a handful of large, high-quality image files to use up all that storage space – and then that address can no longer receive other emails until the files have been deleted!
  • The increasing prevalence of anti-spam and anti-virus measures means that your message may not even get through if you’ve attached a file to it. This depends on what type of file it is and what settings the recipient has chosen for his email program.
  • The person you’re sending to may not want to receive your attachment in any case – particularly if you’re sending something non-work related to someone at their workplace.

So if you want to send someone a file, it’s better to ask them first – particularly if it’s a large file or you’re sending to a work email address.

Better still: if the image, document or file is available online, why not send them a link to it? That way you give your email’s recipient the choice of whether and when to look at it. You also keep the use of Internet network resources down, which helps keep data generally moving more quickly.

As you see, there’s nothing very difficult or unreasonably demanding about any of that. No doubt there are one or two things I’ve mentioned that would wind you up if you were on the receiving end. If you can say hand on heart that you don’t do any of them yourself, then thanks for helping keep the Internet tidy and my blood pressure down. 🙂


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