30 Questions and Suggestions for Business Email Etiquette

A reminder for all of us

Call me a grammar nerd, language-obsessed, whatever you like. I listen to podcasts like Grammar Girl and radio shows like “A Way with Words” in my free time. Word geek indeed.

When I ran across Kyle Lacy’s post last month that included a list of questions and suggestions for business email etiquette, I had to read it. And share it. And add my own suggestions.

Lacy’s post was inspired by Seth Godin’s, and since that’s the original, I’ve used it for the base list here. You should definitely check out both, but here’s my take on the 30 questions and suggestions we should all keep in mind when writing and sending emails to our business friends and colleagues – including those who share our office space.

(My additions and favorites are in bold.)

1. Is it going to just one person? (If yes, jump to #10)
2. Since it’s going to a group, have I thought about who is on my list?
3. Are they blind copied? If not, would they appreciate that I’ve now shared their email address with everyone else?
4. Did every person on the list really and truly opt in? Not like sort of, but really ask for it?
5. So that means that if I didn’t send it to them, they’d complain about not getting it?
6. See #5. If they wouldn’t complain, take them off!
7. Is the email from a real person? If it is, will hitting reply get a note back to that person? (if not, change it please).
8. Am I angry? (If so, save as draft and come back to the note in one hour tomorrow).
9. Could I do this note better with a phone call?
10. Am I blind-ccing my boss? If so, what will happen if the recipient finds out?
11. Is there anything in this email I don’t want the attorney general, the media or my boss seeing? (If so, hit delete and don’t save the draft for a later, regrettable send).
12. Is any portion of the email in all caps? (If so, consider changing it.)
13. Is it in black type at a normal size?
14. Do I have my contact info at the bottom? (If not, consider adding it).
15. Have I included the line, “Please save the planet. Don’t print this email”? (If so, please delete the line and consider a job as a forest ranger or flight attendant.)
16. Could this email be shorter?
17. Have I attached any files that would work better in PDF format?
18. Am I forwarding someone else’s mail? (If so, will they be happy when they find out?)
19. Did I hit ‘reply all’? If so, am I glad I did? Does every person on the list need to see it?
20. Am I quoting back the original text in a helpful way? (Sending an email that says, in its entirety, “yes,” is not helpful).
21. If this email is to someone like Seth, did I check to make sure I know the difference between its and it’s? Just wondering.
22. If this is a press release, am I really sure that the recipient is going to be delighted to get it? Or am I taking advantage of the asymmetrical nature of email–free to send, expensive investment of time to read or delete?
23. Bonus: Is there a long legal disclaimer at the bottom of my email? Why?
24. Bonus: Does the subject line make it easy to understand what’s to come and likely it will get filed properly?
25. If I’m replying but with different content, should I change the subject line to be more relevant?
26. If I had to pay 42 cents to send this email, would I?

And four of my own additions to the list:

27. Have I read it myself? Does it make sense?
28. Did I use punctuation, or is my email one long, run-on, confusing sentence?
29. At what time of day am I writing this? If it’s after 10:00 p.m., consider saving it as a draft and rereading before sending it first thing in the morning instead.
30. Have I used any abbreviations, initialisms or acronyms that the recipient might not understand?

Need further inspiration? Just look to one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Bloomington native Carrie Newcomer.

What are your favorites (or your biggest pet peeves)? What would you add to this list?

Amanda Miller
July 7th, 2011

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