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Email etiquette: Ask before sending attachments

(MoneyWatch) It might not seem that way, but email has its own complex rules of etiquette, which you may violate -- intentionally or otherwise -- at your own peril. I've written about many of these rulesin the past, but one issue that seems to irritate some people more than any other is the issue of the unsolicited attachment.

Specifically, I'm referring to cold call emails that contain attachments -- it's a no-no.

This rule doesn't really apply to intra-network email. So if you are sending email to co-workers within the walls of a company, feel free to send attachments without too much concern. But a lot of professionals don't like to receive attachments of any kind -- and they're particularly offended by large attachments -- from external cold-callers.

There are a number of reasons for this. Most importantly, attachments eat up bandwidth and data, which is still a worry for some people. And attachments have the potential for malware as well. Bottom line: Consider sending attachments without asking first to be in bad form.

This advice is considered important enough that it's a part of the Care and Feeding of the Press recommendations, published by the Internet Press Guild, a non-profit group of online journalists (of which I am a member).

So before you add a Word file, JPG, or -- worst case -- a PDF to an email, consider this rule. Here are some other email best practices to help you stay professional in email:

Bottom line up front. Using the BLUF method, be sure you put the action item or request at the very start of the email, and then expand on that idea with more context later. Don't bury your "ask" at the end of the email.

Put each request on its own line. Make it easy for your recipient to see everything you're asking. Don't put more than one question, request, or action item in the same paragraph.

Keep it short. Make your email as short as possible. And then shorten it a little more.

Keep the subject line relevant. Don't ambush someone with a vague subject line. And if the nature of the message changes over an extended set of exchanges, update the subject line so the purpose of the email remains obvious.

Don't BCC your boss. Don't hide people in the BCC line of an email -- if they later choose to "reply all," you've been exposed as someone who was letting people lurk from the shadows. That won't be good for your reputation or credibility.

What other examples of email etiquette do you consider important? If you were writing an email handbook, what would you put in it? Sound off in the comments.

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