Seven rules for email

One of the researchers who works for my company produced a great guide on the uses and abuses of cummuication and collaboration technologies a few years ago.  When I first read it I was impressed but at the same time depressed at the neglect that most companies have of their basic (common) business processes.  I have continued to be interested in how companies can extract maximum advantage from simple IT infrastructure technologies by focussing on how to use their tools to best effect. 

The following post therefore caught my eye – seven rules for e-mail – it would be great to see a best practice debate on how the phone, SMS, email, syndication, IM and conferencing technologies should be used.  The seven rules above provides a good but limited start. For those of you who don’t want to wait, here they are:


HWe’re all, busy, okay? Life is short. Sometimes we want long rambling rants like mine. But ow much more efficient our lives could be if we all adhered to these simple rules:


1. If your entire message can fit on the subject line, put it on the subject line—followed by EOM  (end of message).  Nothing more.  For example: 


SUBJ:  Thanks, Sanji!     EOM


·        Or append it to the existing subject line:


SUBJ:  Dinner Thursday?   ß YES!  THANKS!  CU THERE!   EOM

 2. Make the subject line descriptive.  If you make it: SUBJ: check this out and it turns out to be yet another copy of Bush’s resume (“I was arrested twice for drunk driving . . .”) that we’ve all seen 50 times by now, it is annoying. But if you make it: SUBJ: Bush’s resume, then we can smile faintly and delete it in three-tenths of a second.


This is especially true if you’re forwarding a link – let alone sending an attachment.  Tell us what it is, so we know whether it’s worth opening your e-mail, following the link, or downloading the attachment.


·        Instead of: SUBJ: Funny!   How about: SUBJ: Jewish haikus


·        Instead of SUBJ: do you know this guy?   How about: SUBJ: do you know Danny Shindler?  Or even (if there’s no more to your message than that): SUBJ: do you know Danny Shindler? EOM.


·        The obvious reason is to save time, but the other reason is to make searching easy.  Say this grows into a spirited exchange about Danny Shindler, because you do know him.  And that a month later, one of you wants to go back and find that thread.  Isn’t the logical thing to search on “Danny Shindler” rather than trying to remember that the thread was entitled “do you know this guy?”

 3. If your message is to one person, begin the subject line with that person’s first name:


SUBJ:  Jane – separation of church and state


That way, she instantly knows you are speaking to her, and this is not a blast e-mail to the 300 people on your list.


This is especially important if you are forwarding something that the recipient may have seen – the Bush resume – but also have a personal message.  (“Have you seen this?  And by the way, Thursday’s meeting has been moved from 3pm to 2pm.”)  Otherwise, the recipient may see it’s a “forward” she’s already seen and delete it – and miss the meeting. 

4. If you’re sending to a large group, use “blind copies” (unless there’s an awfully good reason to have everyone see the e-addresses of all 215 recipients). 

5. If you’re responding to a group e-mail, hit REPLY rather than REPLY ALL unless you really think the whole group wants to see your reply. (Ah, the boorish irony of those who REPLY ALL with the message, “I do not appreciate your cluttering my inbox – please take me off your list.”)

6. If you’re attaching a letter or a newsclip, also cut and paste it into the body of the e-mail to spare the recipient’s having to open the attachment.

7. Place post scripts before your sign off, for reasons amply elucidated in the only really important column I have ever posted in this space.

As an illustration of such a debate in action, albeit on a slightly different subject, there is no better example than the getting things done forums.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m often having nightmares about future misuse of more advanced media of communication and collaboration. Talking of giving sloppy users a longer rope with which to hang themselves… Nasty habits die hard. Despite the Sex Revolution of the 60-70s, self-abuse is still rife, as you may have noticed.

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