Email Etiquette

Though there are no standards on writing for emails, you should remember that many email messages are delivered to and from prospective employers, professional colleagues, and institutions. Because of the wide use of mobile devices and social networking websites such as Facebook, many people tend to use more colloquial and colorful language to communicate their thoughts and ideas in both personal and public electronic messages. People may use shortcuts and unconventional abbreviations in instant and text messaging to demonstrate effective time management skills and witty conversational skills. However, in the context of email, which is usually more professional and formal, such shortcuts and informality can demonstrate a lack of professionalism and outright lack of writing skills.

Steps to Writing Appropriate Email Messages

  1. Address the recipient by their given name. You may give them a title if they are an authority figure such as a professor or an employer.
  2. Use full sentences and correct grammar.
  3. Avoid using vulgar language, slang and inappropriate abbreviations.
  4. Avoid writing in "all caps". Why? Writing in ALL UPPER CASE is considered shouting online.
  5. State the purpose of the message concisely.

How to Use a Mailing List

Every mailing list is different so it is extremely important that you spend some time understanding how to participate in a way that is acceptable to the members of the list. Before posting, take some time to read the mailing list archives. Spend a little time observing and be sure to inquire about and read any codes of conduct or guidelines before you post.

Here are some specific guidelines that should apply across communities:

  • Follow the mailing list posting style. Do people top or bottom post? Follow the norm.
  • Keep your posts on-topic. Avoid tangents and sending I know this is off-topic but... type posts. If you have any doubt, email the moderator before you post. 
  • Don't cross-post to multiple lists. Communicating well on mailing lists means knowing where and when to post items, if you have any doubts regarding what is appropriate, ask the moderator.
  • Never send members unsolicited personal messages. Especially, if your content is along the lines of "the way you talk about code really turns me on." Inappropriate!
  • If you are offended by a response or post, walk away. Do not respond when you are angry.
  • Avoid posting to the mailing list if you are significantly under the influence of anything that makes you behave out of your norm. Just like drunk-dialing is bad, so is drunk-emailing to your community mailing list.
  • Avoid profanity.
  • Don't post chain letters, marketing messages or other types of off-topic spam.
  • Always check the archives before re-posting your message. Lots of lists don't send you duplicates of your posts. Check the archives before you re-send!
  • Always read the entire thread before replying. Seriously. Read every message in a thread first!
  • Don't use the mailing list as your own personal Google. Take the time to research the question first. Check the archives, search the project documentation first, or Google it yourself.
  • Don't begin or get involved in religious or political arguments unless that is the point of the list.
  • Never proselytize on a mailing list. 
  • Do your best to always assume the best of the poster. We all have bad days. Sometimes, a non-native speaker may appear to have an offensive tone in the post where no offense is meant.
  • Avoid unintentional "tone" in your postings. If you have any doubt read your message out loud or have someone else read your message before you post.