Email Etiquette

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 13 2011

Email is a weird thing. It’s different from the old snail-mail letters because it’s an almost daily form of communication. And, as many of you know, there are rules to email etiquette, things that those of us who are savvy in email know about and those who aren’t, don’t. If you don’t feel you’re up on email etiquette, but are entering a business relationship (with editors and agents), I would suggest you bone up on what you need to know.

While I’m certainly no etiquette maven, here are some mistakes I’ve seen over the years, and I’m sure many of you see them as well.

1. All caps means you’re yelling. Do NOT use all caps or caps lock unless you are truly angry and plan on yelling at your agent or editor. Even if we know you didn’t intend to yell at us, it’s hard to get your screaming voice out of our head as we’re reading.

2. Subject lines are for a subject, not for the entire message. If an author types the entire message in the subject line and not in the email, I can’t help but feel I’m being chastised. Like the author was angry and couldn’t even reach the actual email space.

3. Speaking of subjects: If possible, make your subject relate to your email. That way, before even opening it I get a glimpse of what you’re getting in touch about.

4. If possible avoid using fancy templates. They look great when you’re composing your email, but they never seem to translate well in the sending. Basically, they usually just make an email difficult to read. Plain white emails with black, simple type work best for me.

5. Keep the message thread alive. Set up your email so that the message thread (the message you’re replying to) remains at the bottom of the email. This is especially helpful with queries so that I know what query you’re referring to, but also with client emails so that, if needed, I can take a quick perusal of the conversation.

6. Make sure your professional contacts are not included in chain email, or funny forwards.

7. If you have a spam clearance on your email, make sure to clear people you are expecting replies from. This is especially true of queries.

There are probably more tips that others can think of, but these are the common problems I most often see.


29 responses to “Email Etiquette”

  1. Great reminders! I know some offenders

  2. Avatar SJ Drum says:

    Thanks for the reminders! It is always best to keep it simple. This post makes me think of people who snail-mail resumes on scented paper. Seriously?

  3. Avatar Richard says:

    Your very right about those caps, but i just try and ignore it. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon,Pa

  4. Avatar Vicki Rocho says:

    Another reason to avoid email templates is that sometimes the receiving servers strip the pretty graphics out and add them as an attachment — your email may get deleted without ever being read.

  5. Avatar Beth says:

    I found your number two interesting. When I was in the corporate world people preferred I put the message in the subject if it was possible. It saved time from opening the email.

  6. Avatar Anna says:

    I would also add another rule: include salutations on every email. Some people are fine with starting the email right away, but for business emails, one should always address a person.

  7. Avatar Cynthia says:

    I agree, and keep it simple is one of my best rules.

  8. Avatar Anna Zagar says:

    Here's another one: Have something in the subject line. Don't leave it blank. This drives me all kinds of nuts! 🙂

  9. Avatar JP Kurzitza says:

    And, for the love of God, enough with Lol after every sentence. No one is that funny, and I've stopped laughing since the subject line.

    Thank you

  10. Avatar Lorenda says:

    I'd like to second Anna – it annoys me when people don't take the time to greet me before jumping in to the body of the email. If you're replying to a quick question, no salutation is fine, but otherwise, I just think it's polite to say "Hello Jane," or something first.

  11. Avatar ryan field says:

    I also think it helps to have an e-mail address that's your name. When it's initials and numbers, or something only you would know, it gets frustrating.

  12. Avatar Chelsey says:

    Thanks to his blackberry my dad has done the "entire message in subject" thing before. It's not pretty.

  13. Avatar Steph Damore says:

    I agree with Ryan that you should have a professional email address for at least business purposes. Who's gonna take hotpants911@gmail serious?

  14. Avatar Lisa says:

    Entire message in subject line?

    I didn't know one could do that. So I suppose people could send their queries in the subject line…I suppose it's time saving.

  15. Avatar Lara Moretti says:


    also, there is no reason not to use basic capitalization, such as at the beginning of a sentence. this isn't a casual IM with your peeps.

    or txt spk. 4 rlz ppl.

    Twitter hashtags have no place in an email, either. #beprofessional

  16. Follow the simple rules of grammar and check your spelling. It's hard for me to take anyone seriously as it relates to the business of writing if it's chock full of simple errors.

  17. The free services like AOL include advertising in the body of the email so your email may never reach that agent or editor because of spam filters.

  18. Avatar Stephsco says:

    I didn't LOL but I kind of gasped at the rule about not including professional contacts in funny forwards. I would say that's a no brainer, but I suppose it needs to be said. No email is so funny that it should be sent to your entire contacts list. Ever. In fact most of those aren't even very funny…

  19. Avatar G says:

    I find number 2 to be a serious annoyance in my line of work. I do payroll for a living and it makes me very upset when the person I'm corresponding with can't be bother with putting the original message and replies in the body of the e-mail.

  20. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    Regarding the message thread, if the topic of the message no longer resembles the subject title, please change the subject title to what it really is. I have received tons of email threads that started out about one thing and ten messages strung together later, the topic has totally flipped to something else. Makes me nuts. An ex-advertising client of mine would do that constantly, then get upset when i couldn't find the message she was referring to. That's part of why she's an ex-client now.

  21. Avatar Nicole says:

    I'm glad you put #5 in there. I typically do that, but sometimes I don't know if I ought to leave all that stuff in there or not, and if it makes me look like some loser/idiot who doesn't know how to delete old emails or something. Hur hur.

    I think it's a good idea to make a separate email address strictly for business/writing correspondence, that way you're never getting the wrong email addresses in there or goof and send a stupid forward to your dream agent. I actually have three – one for friends/family, one for business, and one for spam and all the random junk I toss my email to.

  22. @Lisa:

    You said, "Entire message in subject line? I didn't know one could do that."

    I don't think this is what Jessica was referring to, but sometimes at work I'll send a brief message that is a subject only. For example, I might write my boss with the subject, "I'm Sick And Working From Home (EOM)"

    If it's not clear, (EOM) means "End Of Message."

    Just my $0.03.

  23. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It is very common in the corporate world to put the message in the subject line. I don't like it one bit, but it is done for a reason so I deal with it as needed.

    When I can lord it over somebody to do things my way, I do it. When somebody can lord it over me to do things their way, I do it. Most often, it is a draw and we both do what we want. LOL

  24. Avatar Lisa says:


    If you're sick, you can't be working from home, dear.

    I'm afraid I shall have to contact your boss about this. It just won't do.

  25. I searched the web the other day for etiquette about the subject line only because I have an offender in my world. While I *love* hearing it bothers others too, suggesting the EOM will be a great thing.

  26. Avatar Jill Thomas says:

    Great stuff, Jessica! I have one question, the norm these days is to type the title of a book in all caps, would you warn against this as part of the yelling rule? Would you use the old-school quotation marks instead?

  27. Avatar Richard says:

    Feel free to stop and read old order Mennonite Jeans post on Amish Stories. In this post she talks about pen-pals,what sells for her at the farmers market, and taking relaxing drives in her buggy. only seen in Amish Stories. thanks folks. Richard

  28. If you keep emailing back and forth, the old conversation can get very loooong. Sometimes I cut out the oldest parts and type SNIP so the recipient knows it's been abbreviated. This is especially important for people who type their replies under the old message rather than on top of it….

  29. @Richard:

    You know, part of email etiquette is not spamming others.

    Just some friendly advice.