Oops! Sent that Message?

I was told years ago that if you write something in an email, consider it written in the sky for everyone to read - probably forever, since emails have a way of never disappearing. So, have there been times that you wish you hadn't sent that email? Or realized too late that you added someone who was not supposed to receive it to an email message?

So before you hit the Send button, back away - take your hands off the keyboard- take a deep breath. If everything looks okay, then send your email. Some ideas to consider as you write your email:

  • If you are angry or depressed and you write an email, do not send it. Save it and read it later. Or delete it. Just writing it may help you, but could hurt the recipient more than you want.
  • Do not include an attachment unless you know the recipient wants it. How many of us receive pictures and movies that take forever to download, clogging our inbox and preventing us from seeing the other messages until it is done? The first time you do send attachments to many people, include a disclaimer on the bottom so that anyone who wishes to may be removed from your list.
  • When you are sending an attachment tell your respondent what the name of the file is, what program it is saved in, and the version of the program.
  • Be careful about sending Word documents. Instead, while in Word, choose "Save As" in the file menu and select a different format:
  • If you are messaging many people, avoid exposing everyone's email address to every recipient.
  • Always include a subject heading that explains what is in the email.
  • Don't write in ALL CAPS. Everyone probably knows this by now, but just in case. Text in all caps is interpreted as YELLING in email. Even if you're not yelling, it's more difficult to read text that's in all caps, so do your recipients a favor and use standard capitalization practices.
  • Avoid "flaming" — sending inflammatory messages - because it tends to create a great deal of conflict that spirals out of control.
  • When your message is long, create an "elevator" summary.
  • Even better, Keep it short. The ideal length for an email is five sentences. If you're asking something reasonable of a reasonable recipient, simply explain who you are in one or two sentences and get to the ask. If it's not reasonable, don't ask at all.
  • Quote back. Even if emails are flying back and forth within hours, be sure to quote back the text that you're answering. Assume that the person you're corresponding with has fifty email conversations going at once.
  • "Plain text" is the best option if you're sending a simple message; experts say it takes very little space, is completely standard, and runs on both very old computers as well as cellphones and handheld devices.
  • If you think it's important to keep the fonts and layout as it is, you can choose PDF. The Rich Text Format, or RTF, is also an alternative.
  • If your documents are big, meant for a wider audience, and/or contains pictures and stuff, you should probably save it as a Web page, and send only the URL for it.
  • Or you can just write (or copy) the text directly into the mail program; but check that your mail program is configured to send plain text.
  • Instead set up a mailing list.
  • Or put multiple recipients on the Blind Carbon Copy - BCC - line so that their addresses remain invisible to the others. I violated this 'Netiquette' rule and got someone very upset, so now I know better).
  • Provide a table of contents on the first screen of your email.
  • If you require a response from the reader then be sure to request that response in the first paragraph of your email.
  • Create headings for each major section.


Email Etiquette Workshop

Reading Email Headers

The Effective Emailer

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