Before sending that E-mail
March 15, 2015

We spend long long hours in front of our digital devices and meet less and fewer people directly and more and more electronically.

We have our “talking informally” culture and our obvious “texting” culture dictating our communication behavior.

We have become efficient, frugal even when it comes to using our words and emotions:

Got it

These symbols, abbreviations, and short words have somehow become our staples.

I use some frequently, some I see being used in almost every post, even when they are not needed.

Do we even need to go beyond these?

There are times when we need to strap ourselves as much away from this informal way of writing/typing.

Yes, there is a formal way of conducting electronic conversation…

And, yes there is something called E-mail etiquette.

While we might tend to think of running spell checks and getting the email address correct as the biggies ………… there’s more ……..

Working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Instructor, Tutor, Mentor, family member serving as that fresh pair of eyes, and just gaining experience (and grey hairs at the same time) over the years sending and receiving numerous e-mails both formal and informal. Over the years, I have sent emails reminding about it and I have talked about it face to face.

And so, today I decided to blog about it…

The Dos

  • Do type something in that subject line.  The subject line is there for a purpose.  For busy people (yes your e-mail recipients are busy, occupied, distracted, ….),  an email without a subject line will be the easiest reason for your email to be overlooked.  Filling in that subject line is a courtesy to the receiver.  I hope you don’t send an application to be submitted via email without a subject.  Then, take every email you send to someone (teacher, graduate assistant, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, friend, ……)  that you need a favor from or need feedback from, or need correction from, as that e-mail with an application.
  • Do use salutation.  I have received numerous emails with no salutation or with a plain hello!  Whether it is submitting an assignment or asking for some favor, no salutation or an impersonal salutation is an eyesore for your reader. It’s just a couple of words at most: Dear Jane, Hi Jane, Dear Ms. Smith, …..  Not too hard is it?
  • Do use Please and Thank you often.  Whether it is your sister that you shared everything under the sun with, or the secretary of your office to whom you want to send a document to be made copies of, using Please and Thank you whenever you want help from and/or advice from (a must for e-mails that are academic and/or professional in nature) makes them feel valued.
  • Do type something brief in the body of the e-mail. Make sure that the e-mail is thoughtful and brief in its content.  Make the reader feel good with a few words of courtesy and introduce yourself if you have doubts that the reader may not recognize you.  Depending on your relationship with the recipient and the type of favor you intend to ask for, there are right ways and wrong ways to bring up your request.  There are tons of resources out there.  101 etiquette tips and Business etiquette should get you started.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t forget to include a proper subject line.  I reiterate the importance of using the subject line.  Subject line also makes for a good way to search your e-mail when needed.
  • Don’t leave the body of your e-mail empty.  Sending an e-mail with just as an attachment is a total “no, no”.  A few sentences (you might consider it too obvious to be worthy of typing it out) shouldn’t be that hard to compose.  The result or the effect might not always seem rewarding but sending an empty one is definitely a red flag.
  • Don’t make the reader guess.  If you need a response back from the recipient, don’t make them guess. Spell out the action that you intend from them.  This applies for every email that you send, even in that 10th follow up email that you have going back and forth.  More likely than not, people are busy and when they are not asked to a specific response/action, you might get nothing back.  If you asked for some information in your first email and the receiver sends an email with a question or clarification, do remember to remind the recipient that you are still waiting for that information/action (again) when you reply with the answer to the question.
  • Don’t forget that once you send it, it is there to stay.  You have probably seen/heard/read enough about people who have landed themselves in tough spots because of what they said or wrote. Sometimes a seemingly small group of words that landed people in too deep a hole.  Please, please, please be courteous when you are sending an e-mail. Even the ones where you venting out your frustration.  Remember that you want a solution, not create additional problems.  When people are attacked, they react in the most natural way ……………. they defend themselves.  You need to make sure that your email serves its purpose: the recipient will read the email in its entirety, tries to understand your point of view, and responds in a way that you want him/her to respond.

So, next time you type an e-mail, make sure your e-mail is serving the purpose.

About Sudiksha Joshi

A Learning Advocate and Founder of, I am on a mission to give ourselves to think bigger and bolder to forge our way forward and change the world.