Mind Your Manners When Sending Email
By jennifer j. rose
When e-mail was in its infancy, Arlene Rinaldi spelled out the rules of Netiquette in the basic terms required by the era. Her guide, which seems quaint by today’s standards, can be found at http://www.cs.biu.ac.il/home/leagal/netguide/netiquette.html.
Back then, Internet connections were slow, Spam ® was a lunchmeat sold by Hormel Foods, and most folks had but a single email address. Today practically everyone in the first, second, and third worlds has broadband, technopeasants have multiple email addresses, unsolicited junk mail is a major concern, and simply sending email is easier than ever. The days of waking up to a whopping seven new emails are long over. Between midnight and that first bleary-eyed cup of coffee in the morning, several hundred now await most of us. The ubiquity of email and advances in the way we use it demand new approaches to its etiquette.
- Just because you have the ability to format messages in fancy fonts, colors, and with little posies against a polka-dotted background doesn’t mean that you should inflict it upon others. Many email clients can’t handle messages sent that way, delivering your message as gibberish or crashing the recipient’s email client. Save the HTML for those who appreciate it.
- Unless you know the recipient’s expecting something from you, don’t send large attachments without asking first. A large attachment is anything over 5 MB, provided you know that the recipient has broadband. Not only do you not know the size of the recipient’s mailbox or the recipient’s ability to handle large files, but the last thing you want is downloading that rejected attachment into your own inbox. If you’re in doubt, use a service such as YouSendIt, http://www.yousendit.com/, discussed at http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/ereport/2006/mar/survivingemail.html.
- Stop forwarding the jokes, warnings, movies, PowerPoint presentations, and sound files to everyone in your address book. Everything that finds its way into your inbox shouldn’t necessarily be shared with the rest of the world, who already knows that Bill Gates is giving away $1,000 and a copy of Windows 98, that antiperspirants cause breast cancer, and the stolen UPS uniforms are being sold on eBay. We don’t need another lucky Irish chain letter, Ben Stein’s last column, or a warning that a rampant virus will cause our hard drives to explode, because we’re too busy responding to URGENT & CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS PROPOSALS from Generals of the People’s Army of Never-Neverland promising us 45 million dollars. If we ask you to stop forwarding mail to us, please refrain from telling us how much you enjoy receiving forwards and asking if we’ve lost our sense of humor. If I don’t forward you jokes, please don’t forward them to me.
- Don’t make me beg to get on your email whitelist. If you go to all the effort of sending someone else email, you should be prepared to receive a reply from them without making them knock three times to see if you’ll accept a response. Fix your Spam filter. I do not appreciate crafting a thoughtful and reasoned response to your email, only to have it rejected “because we don’t accept email from your kind of people.” If you’re not accepting email from my kind of people, then please don’t send it to me. (Overaggressive spam filters can be fatal. Take the case of the anonymous lawyer who inadvertently sent work product email to a lawyer we’ll call Griswold, mistaking him for someone whose name was similar. Griswold shot her back a nice note, only to receive a challenge response, demanding that he fill out a form begging to be whitelisted. He shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of pleading just for the courtesy of telling the anonymous lawyer about her error.)
- Long signature lines, which include more information than is really necessary, providing everything down to the sender’s ATM PIN, Dun & Bradstreet rating, height, weight, sign of the Zodiac, favorite URLs, and topped off with a slogan followed by quotes from other people long since dead and forgotten are really out of style. So too are ridiculously and incomprehensible long disclaimers filled with mumbo-jumbo exceeding the length of the average life insurance policy.
- Routinely sending email from one address and expecting that others respond to another email address imposes an unfair burden upon recipients. Is it too much trouble to send mail from the address at which you expect to receive email? Ranking even worse is sending email from an address which leaves absolutely no clue as to the sender’s identity.
- Use the correct fields when addressing email. There are three fields: “to,” “cc,” and “bcc.” The “to” field should be limited to those recipients who are expected to take action upon your message. The “cc” field should be reserved for those intended to receive the message as an information item only. Use the “bcc” field very sparingly. Just because you have the ability to send a blind copy, you should not feel obligated to use it. The better course is to forward the email later to the person to whom you would be sending a blind copy in order to prevent that person from inadvertently responding to the email, blowing your cover.
- If your email doesn’t require a response from me, don’t bate your breath in eager anticipation that I’ll reply. We spend too much time flipping emails back and forth, replying simply “Got it” when it’s not necessary. Consider adding “No response is needed” to email which doesn’t require a response. Time and bandwidth doesn’t grown on trees, you know.
- Use the “Request a Return Receipt” feature with the same frequency that you’d spring for a return receipt on old-fashioned snail mail. Used with reckless abandon, it’s just plain annoying.
- Good grammar still counts. Do not write in email anything that you would be embarrassed seeing printed on your office letterhead or in the local newspaper. All right, that’s an old rule, but it bears repeating.
Mail from people I don’t even know now requires even more of my time. If you’ll please excuse me, I have to get back to reading “Anatrim is the natural and safe weight loss blend,” “Best love dr@gs at best store!,” “Software At Low Pr1ce,” and the Viagra offers.
jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSOLO, receives her email at firstname.lastname@example.org in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.