Courtesies in Using Email

Although widespread use of email is relatively recent, some "conventional wisdom" has already accumulated about how to avoid offending or annoying email correspondents. We include here a brief review of some key points and recommend additional tips on etiquette through the linked Web sites.

Checking Email Regularly

When a teacher or work-group member tells you that you’ll be getting email, check your account regularly or be sure to explain that you cannot access email. As more and more people rely on electronic communications, they will be annoyed when you don’t respond to questions or miss other messages.

Using Emoticons and Abbreviations

Because email messages lack tone of voice and gestures that communicate so much during face-to-face and telephone conversations, some email writers include emoticons to indicate humor, sarcasm, excitement, and other emotions; for example, :) is a happy face. As a writer, you’ll know which personal messages can include these touches, but they’re generally frowned upon in professional contexts.

Similarly, you may feel comfortable writing personalized abbreviations (such as imho for "in my humble opinion") in personal or social messages, but they are generally not considered appropriate for professional communications. To view additional emoticons and abbreviations, see the link at the bottom of the page.

Writing Tempered Email

Because email is less personal than a face-to-face or even a telephone conversation, users sometimes find themselves tempted to write messages that they would not ordinarily speak to that person. Generally, writing email messages in the heat of anger or frustration only causes more problems. Take time to think through a problem or situation before you send an email message. In other words, don’t lash out through email just because you won’t have to witness the immediate reaction of your recipient.

On the other hand, you may find yourself in a situation that allows you to exploit the distancing effect of email. Say, for example, that a group member isn’t doing his share of the work, and if you confront that person face-to-face you know you’re likely to explode. A carefully worded email message can alert the person to the problem without causing the hard feelings that a confrontation might.

Eliminating Junk Mail

Don’t send announcements to people unlikely to care about your "news." People get so many email messages now that they are annoyed by groups that include them on general lists. If you want to be sure to reach everyone who might be interested in your group, send a general announcement once a year about your organization and ask interested people to send you a reply to be added to your emailing list. Create and update the list as necessary, and use only that list for your announcements unless a particular event is likely to attract other people from the larger community.

Joining List-Serve Groups

Be aware that most list-serve groups observe common courtesies that may differ from group to group. One list-serve may ask that you mail a first message introducing yourself and explaining your interest in the group topic. Other list-serve groups may ask that you "lurk"(reading without participating) for a few weeks until you "get the feel" for the common exchanges before you jump in. Don't create the wrong impression as did a student joining a professional list-serve recently: she asked how we could be so boring by never writing any messages. As a member quickly responded, this group usually asks for polite introductions first, and she would get more responses when the members returned from the major annual convention that had taken them all away from their desks for ten days.

Replying to One Person Rather Than the Group

When you want to communicate with one member of your list-serve group, be sure to send the message to that person’s email address, not to the list-serve address. Private messages sent to all the list-serve members can annoy readers who aren’t intended to read the message.

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