20 tips on email etiquette


By Tim Lawlor

Ottawa Construction News associate publisher

Email is both (i) a fantastic tool and (ii) the bane of our lives, all at the same time! It brings to mind an old saying, “can’t live with it, can’t live without it!

While the main cause appears to be volume, there are things that we can do to help ourselves. Certainly within our own companies we can develop a set of guidelines that will help.

            “Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.” Pythagoras

  1. An email should in most cases be about one subject. If you have three different subjects to discuss then send three different emails.
  2. Emails should use good grammar. Do not use texting shortcuts.
  3. The subject line is important, it should provide some indication about the content.
  4. The message should be clear … if in doubt try it out on a trusted person first.
  5. As a manager if I am sending an internal email to someone who reports to another manager then I should copy that manager.
  6. Sometimes a subject is too complex, or involves too many people, to be just an email. In those circumstances a meeting would be a better choice, a conference call would be a good option. The results could then be documented in an email for everyone to ensure they are on the same page.
  7. If you are writing an email and feeling emotional then most likely you should just pick up the phone or wait until you are calm again.
  8. An email provides a good history of an issue or topic, so it should be clear enough that it serves that purpose when you look back at it several months later.
  9. Always use spell checker.
  10. If you are replying to an email as one of a number of recipients then you need to think about whether a Reply All is necessary … hint, we all get lots of emails already!
  11. If you are sending an email to a group and want responses to go to everyone then indicate that in your message.
  12. There is little value in a reply that says “me too” or words to that effect. Unless you are asked to confirm your agreement to something you would do better to not reply.
  13. If you find yourself agonizing over an email, then it is probably the wrong tool.
  14. If action is required then a timeline should be added, such as “Please respond by noon on Thursday Dec 25th.”
  15. Include a courteous greeting and closing. It’s a small thing but it helps make the email not seem demanding or terse.
  16. Use of capital letters means you are shouting, so please don’t, unless you really want to.
  17. If you are sending an attachment be sensitive to the recipient. It is often better to cut and paste the content of a small attachment so it can be read in the email (especially good for mobile).
  18. Use a standard font that is easily read.
  19. Use formatting to highlight important words, or points.
  20. Do not let email become your only form of communication if you expect to build and maintain relationships!

“Communication works for those who work at it.” John Powell

            Reprinted with the permission of and special thanks to, Kevin Dee
CEO, Eagle Professional Resources Inc.


            Tim Lawlor can be reached by email at tlawlor@cnrgp.com. If you prefer, you can phone him at (613) 699-2057 ext. 210.


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