Don't Annoy Your Boss and Co-Workers with E-mail Gaffes

Last Updated Jul 13, 2009 10:20 AM EDT

Annoying e-mail is one of my personal pet peeves. And I get plenty of them -- enough, probably, to write a regular Dear Duke of E-mail Etiquette column. For now, though, here are five of my biggest gripes with people who click send without thinking.


Always use descriptive subject lines. Blank subject lines are horrifically annoying. Yeah, we all make mistakes, but you can use a tool to prevent accidental blank subjects. And don't forget about the verb -- vague subject lines like "web site" helps no one. "How to fix the publishing problem with feedback page" is much better.

Change your subject line when the thread goes off in a new direction. E-mails should not be like a box of chocolates -- you shouldn't have to double click to find out what's really inside. After the thread branches off down a side road, rename the message accordingly. Everyone will silently thank you.

Don't move e-mail groups to BCC. You might think you're helping the 50 people that no longer care about the direction an e-mail has taken, but in reality, you're messing up everyone' inbox. Moving people to BCC breaks Outlook's rules, so messages end up in everyone's inbox instead of whatever folder those e-mails would ordinarily get funneled to.

Put the question or action at the top, not the bottom. I call this BLUF -- "Bottom Line Up Front." That way your recipients don't have to slog through your charming backstory to get to the point. I've got more tips for sending efficient e-mails as well.

Answer questions inline, not in a big blob at the top. The exception to this rule, of course, is if you only have one thing to say. But if you're responding to a few questions, insert your responses inline, in a different color, and preface your answer with your name in brackets, like this: [dave].

What are your biggest e-mail gripes? Chime in the comments. And be sure to check out my answer to coltos, who asks how you should respond to the dude that accidentally sends a message to the company-wide distribution list or alias.

Photo by by Mzelle Biscotte

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