Email Etiquette

Email is the de facto and predominating method of communicating electronically in the modern age, and so good email etiquette is more important than ever. Brought to you by InterLinked, here are a few best practices which, if adhered to, will enhance everyone's email experience. Note that these are not best practices about content (e.g. how to word a good email), but rather technical aspects as to email structure and how to optimally compose and reply to emails. This focuses on emails themselves, rather than aspects of mail clients conducive to good email etiquette, which are covered in our other guides.

  1. Use a proper mail client — Although webmail clients are an easy way to access email from almost anywhere, webmail clients remain quite primitive and lacking in important email features and tools. Avoid them at all possible costs. Proper email etiquette is not possible unless you use a good mail client. We personally recommend MailNews, a forked fork of Thunderbird. Although Outlook is the business standard and quite popular, it is infamously non standards-compliant. Using a standards-compliant and feature-rich mail client will make your life and others' lives much easier. Use a variant of Thunderbird if possible, rather than Outlook, and avoid webmail (and even worse, mail "apps") at all possible costs. Although the approach is less unified and somewhat more cumbersome, it works best if you use a Thunderbird-derivative for mail and Outlook for everything else (calendaring, address book management, task management, etc.) so you can still take advantage of Microsoft Exchange.
  2. Reply inline — This is probably one of the most important tips. Replying inline does wonders for the clarity and coherence of your responses. Inline replies are essential for long exchanges, particularly between multiple people, like on a group or listserv. Although "top-posting" is the default in Outlook and most webmail providers (just one example why webmail is to be avoided), it should be avoided at all possible costs. This concise example illustrates:
    A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
    Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
    This confusion is just one of many that inline replies avoid. You can read more about top-posting and inline replies, if you wish.
    Long story short, inline replies preserve logical ordering and sequencing in email exchanges, allow you to respond point-by-point, thus retaining full context and allowing you to avoid having to summarize the question in order to reintroduce context arbitrarily (as is necessary when one top-posts), and makes it very easy to follow complex exchanges even as they nest several levels deep.
    Two footnotes: when replying inline, leave a line break before and after each inline response. This makes your responses even easier to distinguish from the quoted message. Secondly, it is good practice judiciously trim quotes. If a large part of the reply is no longer relevant to the discussion at present, trim irrelevant material. You should always trim others' signatures when replying (and conclude with your own). If you do not trim all the quotes, you should type a signature (your name or initials will do) to signal that there are no further replies from you in that email in the remaining quoted material.
  3. Sign your email — You don't need to have an email signature configured in your mail client. However, you should always conclude your email by adding your name or initials either at the end of your email or after the last response in your reply.
  4. Send in plain text when possible — Unless you have a legitimate (really good) reason for sending as HTML, you should send your messages as plain text. Most clients default to HTML, so you should change this. The mail guide linked in Step 1 describes how to automatically prompt you to choose between sending in plain text and HTML, for maximal power. (HTML is only necessary if you intend to format text or use inline images, generally; Thunderbird and its derivatives, however, can send/receive plain text messages with bold/italics/underline text, using the *BOLD*, /ITALIC/, and _UNDERLINE_ markup codes.)
    Plain text messages are significantly smaller than HTML messages, so not only is this a courtesy to the recipient, but you also do yourself a favor. In addition, plain text message are less likely to be marked as spam.
  5. Use images responsibly — Don't send images when it's not necessary. Use text whenever possible. If you do use images, always consider attaching them, rather than pasting them inline. This makes the images more accessible to the recipient, and it also makes them easier to detach if they are large.
  6. Don't use shortlinks — While shortlinks may serve a purpose for URLs that need to be copied by hand or remembered, they have no role in email. All short links will do in emails is make them more likely to get flagged as Junk/Span. Include full, original URLs, always!

Bonus — Personal Pro Tip: You attach things in emails, but that's only half the story! The other half is detaching them! Attachments unnecessarily clutter up your email folders and occupy storage. In fact, most of the space on a mail server is likely occupied by superfluous attachments — superfluous, because the important ones are usually downloaded anyways. Instead of merely downloading attachments, detach them to free up space on the mail server. This prevents you from exceeding your mail quota if you have one, makes email easier to sync (if you are using IMAP or Exchange), and makes your email much easier to work with in general! You can use the Size column in the Navigation pane to get an idea of what folders are the most bloated, and then sort by size descending to detach or delete any large attachments you may have forgotten about (Detach = Download + Delete).