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Three rules of email etiquette

July 7, 2011

We’ve had access to email for over thirty years, and yet we don’t have widely accepted standards for email behavior. Maybe this is because people hate to correct their friends and colleagues. I mention email etiquette here because nearly everyone feels they should be able to spend less time sorting through messages from students, colleagues, and others.

Many people have suggested email guidelines. One list was recently proposed by two folks from TED, Chris Anderson and Jane Wulf, and over 11,000 people have clicked their support of The Email Charter. New York Times columnist David Pogue wrote about it and offered some additions in his article, We Have to Fix E-Mail. From a slightly different angle, you might also want to check this summary of Business Email Etiquette Basics.
Literally hundreds of rules have been put forth. Some of them are little more personal preference, but here are three common themes:
  1. Get to the point – start with your main message and be concise
  2. Be sensitive to time – answer quickly yourself and be patient about replies from others
  3. Only send people things they need – avoid excessive confirmations, large attachments, embedded graphics, long signatures, forwarded messages, and use “reply all” sparingly!
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