Email Etiquette – Top 10 Things to Avoid

From writing a hasty response to sarcastically responding, review these 10 rules of email etiquette to strengthen relationships and avoid an HR nightmare.



When the average working professional spends 28% of their day reading and responding to emails, it may sound like a waste of time to cautiously review every single email. But mistakes are made in haste, and hasty emails have a digital paper trail that may come back to haunt you.

To prevent a simple sentence from creating an HR nightmare, be sure you review the following email etiquette tips often.

Are you saying what you mean to say with the words and method you're using to say it?

1. Don’t make your subject line vague or leave it empty. People usually decide whether your email is worth opening based on the subject line. Instead of writing “hey” or “FYI” or some other vague word, be specific. Examples may include “Need guidance for presentation” or “Proposal draft for review.”

2. Don’t hit “reply all” for every email. When you get 20 email responses with the same subject line that you can easily delete without opening, you know what I’m talking about with this rule. Emails are distractions that disrupt concentration. Only reply to those needing your response.

3. Don’t use all caps. While most working adults understand this to be the equivalent of yelling at someone in person, don’t do it… even when you’re angry and intend to be yelling.

4. Don’t email when you’re angry. If you’re tempted to yell with all caps or have an “I’ll show you” attitude while writing your response, take a few minutes before reviewing and hitting send. Consider having a coworker or friend read what you’ve written to ensure your emotional tone isn’t captured in the email.

5. Don’t use condescending words. “Obviously” or “Does that make sense?” or “Correct me if I’m wrong” can all be misinterpreted in an email. While these phrases may be completely harmless if said in person, they lack your tone and facial expressions in an email.

6. Don’t use sarcasm. Humor and sarcasm are also victims of confusion and offensiveness without hearing your tone or seeing your facial expressions. Even close associates may misinterpret your sarcasm if they’re having a bad day or had a questionable encounter with you earlier. Keep it safe and stay positive rather than trying to invoke a laugh.

7. Don’t forget to proofread. Spell check is a valuable tool in modern technology, but it doesn’t catch everything. Saying “thank you for your collaboration” can be interpreted differently from “thank you for your cooperation.” Be sure your words convey the meaning you intend and that your grammar and punctuation are appropriate.

8. Don’t include the recipient’s email address until the end. Sometimes an email is accidentally sent before the message has been finished. After you have proofed your email and ensured all attachments are included, it’s safe to add the recipient’s email address. When adding the recipient, make sure you have the right person(s) and not somebody with a similar name.

9. Don’t forget to reply. When you’re in the middle of a project and somebody is waiting for your response, send a quick email to let them know you received their email and that you’ll get back to them with your feedback as soon as possible. Silence can be misinterpreted as dislike or frustration.

10. Don’t assume the worst. Before you overreact to an email, talk to the sender via phone or in person to clarify the meaning and intent. Chances are you’ve become a victim to one of these email etiquette rule violations and now you have the opportunity to fix the misinterpreted message before creating an HR nightmare.

Communication is a critical skill for both seasoned professionals and office newbies to help relationships develop positively. For more tips, please contact our HR experts at


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