Wednesday, May 13, 2009

E-mail Etiquette

With the rapid fire communication world that we live in I think people sometimes forget there is such a thing as e-mail etiquette. After spending hours a day sending tweets, texts and facebook messages it’s easy to fall into the same brief, abrupt, person-less messages in e-mail.

And sure, shooting your best friend a two-line e-mail without a signature is no big deal. She won’t be offended. She probably won’t even notice you didn’t sign your name. But sending that same style e-mail to a potential employer or editor/writer you are working with is a problem.

Last week I gave a new freelancer an assignment for one of the publications I work for. I asked her to please confirm the deadline and topic worked for her and of course not to hesitate if she had any questions. My e-mail was brief and to the point, but it did contained my name at the end and a ‘Hi TK’ at the start. In response I received, ‘Got It.’

I stared at the e-mail for a moment and immediately questioned giving this writer one of the longer feature pieces. The response to this assignment that will pay her a couple hundred dollars was not even worth a signature?

After overcoming my initial annoyance, I shot back a similarly short ‘Great Thanks’ and, yes, I did sign my name.

A day later, this same writer shot me another e-mail. It read ‘How much you paying me for this?’ Sometimes I think it’s good that I sit in my own office, Others don’t have to listen to my verbal outbursts. Needless to say, this really ticked me off. First, because we had discussed the pay in depth several weeks before. Second, it’s just so unprofessional to ask this question in such a manner.

OK, this is an extreme case, but abrupt short e-mails are not something specific to this clueless freelancer. I get them all the time. Some are more annoying than others.

I think we all need to remember that while things like Twitter and texting make us brief and to the point, there is a person waiting on the other end to receive your e-mail. And when it comes to people there are just some basic rules of etiquette that should not be overlooked even if you are in a hurry.

To me the basics are:
  • Always put some kind of address. Hi John. Dear Jane. Good Morning Sarah. Happy Friday Bill. - Whatever but address the person specifically.
  • Short is not bad. But a two word sentence is pathetic. Give the e-mail a little more thought.
  • Set up an automatic name, title, contact information to go at the bottom of all your e-mails. This makes it easier for people to get back to you and is professional.
  • Sign your name at the end. And I’m not just talking the automatic name. Take the time to type the couple letters needed to sign your name.
  • Skip the emoticons. Unless you know the person really well, and have developed that kind of relationship, a winking smiley face is immature and unprofessional.
  • Respond to e-mails in a timely manner. Nothing professional should sit in your inbox for more than 24 hours.


  1. Katie,

    Agree, agree, agree. I used to think it was old-fashioned of me to expect email to be respectful, but the examples you listed gave me the willies.

    I do think there's an exception: I have no problem when someone (usually a busy editor) sends me a one-worder: "Thanks." (Or sometimes even "Thx.") I know they're busy. But when they acknowledge an assignment I've sent or a fact/study we'd discussed, I appreciate knowing they got it and a quickie is fine by me.

    I've enjoyed reading your blog! (Fellow blogathoner here.)


  2. Kate - I totally agree with you about the brief editor note. That helps open communication just to get the Thanks. But professionally writers can't always do the same thing.