Ten email rules

Bad email etiquette is endemic in Botswana. I have got the most astonishing business emails from strangers. No salutation, not even mentioning my name, written in appalling grammar (though often the sender claims to be a writer), no closing.

Sometimes written— the entire email from start to finish — in capital letters and often using numbers to represent words. (!?!)

There are some basic rules to keep in mind when writing emails and I think it is time that we set these things straight. Read and follow. (Please, I beg of you.)


1. Include a proper salutation. Dear, Hello, even Hi depending on the circumstances. When I get emails that only say: “Can you help me find a publisher for my book?”, I delete them.  The rudeness of no salutation is too much for me.  My brain explodes.


2. Understand what these mean: to, cc, bcc; and use them appropriately. The email address that belongs in the ‘to’ line is the address for the person that you are sending the email to. This is the person that you want to answer the email as well.  ‘cc’ is carbon copy.  Just like in letters sometimes information in an email needs to be seen by others though they are not the person who must respond to the email.  ‘bcc’ means blind carbon copy.  It is used when other people need to see the email, but not everyone in the group knows each other and has each others’ email addresses.  It is for privacy.  I become quite annoyed when I receive an email sent to many people and my email address appears in the cc line.  I don’t know the other people and I don’t know who they might forward the email to — with my email address made public.  No. No. No.


3. Capital letters are shouting. I would have thought by now everyone knows this. To read in capital letters, in any case, is difficult. Do not write in capital letters. Ever.

4. No fancy stuff on emails.  No borders.  No panda photos in your signature.  Borders and photos are heavy.  You know how many emails you get in a day on our slow networks, imagine someone sending you an email with a 3 MB border and then the message is: “Hi, what are you doing?” — after you’ve waited an hour for it to download in your computer.  Rude.  If you must include attachments, do your best to minimise their size.  Again, slow connections etc.


5. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date.  If you don’t, you may be spreading viruses to the computers where you’re sending your email or (more likely) your email will end up in their spam and they’ll never see it which defeats the entire purpose.


6. No SMS language.  In professional emails this is completely out. 100 percent. Never.


7. Fill in the subject line with something sensible.  Something that gives the receiver an idea about the email.   It’s polite and polite is in, despite what you may have heard.


8. Use ‘reply to all’ very, very sparingly.  It is common for NGOs and other such organisations in the country to send out a mass email announcing an upcoming meeting or event.  In most cases I’ve unfortunately been involved in, about 50 email addresses (often with names attached) will be copied and pasted into the cc line.  So straight away all sorts of strangers have your email (see number 2) and then people will begin to reply, maybe only to say: “I’ll be there” but they press “reply to all”. So for days your email inbox is filling up with these emails that have nothing to do with you.  Annoying X10. Head exploding at least once.  Desk pounding will undoubtedly ensue.  Only send back to the sender, unless there is a reason to include others — don’t include them.


9. Always keep in mind that every email that you send might be forwarded to someone that you don’t know.  This is important. Keep it at the forefront of your mind and think about what you have written before pressing send.


10. Even though I have written number 9, in actual fact, it is illegal to forward emails to third parties without the original writer’s permission. 

It is also illegal to copy the contents of an email and paste it somewhere.  Both of these are copyright infringements and, if push came to shove, could get you in some problems.  Don’t do crime.

Editor's Comment
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