The 11 Cardinal Sins Of Email

At this point, email is an inescapable fact of daily life for pretty much everyone. And yet, we rarely stop to think about the etiquette of sending, receiving and discussing emails.

The average work-email user hits "send" on 110 emails a day, according to a 2012 survey, and a 2012 McKinsey survey found that we spend nearly a third of our time at work keeping up with our inboxes and email correspondences.

"One day several zillion years from now, when aliens from a faraway planet try to make sense of our long-defunct civilization, they’re going to be convinced that e-mail came before the telephone," as Jennifer Senior wrote in New York Magazine. "How else to explain our reliance on something so time-consuming, enervating, and maddeningly inefficient when we could all dispense with our most basic tasks -- and coordinate them, for that matter -- with a brief phone call?"

Needless to say, dealing with email can be a thorn in anyone's side, and a lack of consensus on the rules of sending and receiving these electronic messages only makes matters worse.

Below, the 10 cardinal sins of email:

1. Expecting people to respond within minutes, and getting impatient when they don't.

Email wasn't created so that we could all respond to each other's messages at warp speed. If a period of time has passed and the person has clearly forgotten your message (or it's gotten lost in their inbox), there's nothing wrong with a friendly follow-up. As Maura Nevel Thomas notes in a University of Texas at Austin blog post, expecting immediate responses can take a negative toll on employees.

"When companies fall into the habit of using internal email for immediate and urgent communication, the (often unintended) byproduct is that employees are forced to always leave their email open, being distracted by every new message that comes in," Thomas writes.

2. Emailing your employees on the weekend.

work home

Nearly two-thirds of workers say they get after-hours emails from their bosses and feel obligated to respond, Forbes reported. Try to refrain from making your employees feel tied to their email on the weekend, but if you must send a work email on Saturday or Sunday, at least make it clear that you don't expect an answer until Monday.

“If you don’t have to send an email on the weekend, don’t send it,” Monika Morrow, senior vice president at Right Management, told Forbes. “Create it in draft form and hit ‘send’ on Monday morning.”

3. Failing to pay due diligence to your subject line.

Avoid the blank subject line, as well as the subject line that has nothing to do with the content of your message ("Happy Monday!"). The subject line serves an important purpose -- to tell the recipient of the email what the message is regarding -- so let people know what they're getting into before they open (or trash) your note.

4. Responding to an email using only punctuation marks.


You don't have to be a linguistic anthropologist to see how technology is changing the way we use language. And it's not necessarily a bad thing -- but let's not jump to eliminating words altogether. Emoticons, question marks and exclamation points are not words, so stick to the alphabet (or GIFs, if you're looking to visually express your emotions).

5. "I sent you an email."

Just because email affords us the option to respond to one another instantaneously does not mean that we are obligated to do so. If you happen to walk by the desk of someone you recently emailed who has yet to respond, try to refrain from reminding them that you just emailed them. They saw it. They'll respond at their convenience. End of story.

6. "I got it but I haven't looked at it."

Almost as annoying as #5. It's a meaningless phrase -- you're better off saying nothing at all.

7. Misspelling names.

When you're at a computer, on the Internet, with Google search at your disposal, there is really no excuse for spelling someone's name wrong. Especially when the person's full name is in their email address.

8. Abusing ellipses.

Ever gotten an email, perhaps from an older relative or coworker, in which every sentence is connected to the next with... ellipses? Not that ellipses are rude, but they do distort the meaning. For example:

Hi Honey... Wondering if you had a chance to look at the itinerary... We will be arriving this evening... Should we pick up food?..... Love, Dad.

Some have said that we use ellipses as a way to try to capture the way we speak, with the pauses, lingering and start-and-stop quality of verbal exchanges. But according to Choire Sicha, editor of The Awl, it's "a way to write lazy emails, honestly, without having to think about syntax or relation of each sentence to the next.”

9. Checking your email from the bathroom.

bathroom phone

A whopping 59 percent of mobile users do it, according to a 2008 AOL survey (one can assume that the numbers have only rise since then), and a 2012 survey found that 75 percent of Americans use their phones in the bathroom. But the fact that most of us do it doesn't make it OK. Your recipient might never know that you sent that report from the stall, but you will. Just don't.

10. Being afraid to use an alternative form of communication.

Email is easy, and that's a big part of why we all rely so heavily on it. But on the totem pole of communication, it's pretty low down -- meaning that an email is a low-commitment, low-interaction. Asking someone out on a first date or sharing important news with a family member? Just pick up the phone.

11. Complaining about your overflowing inbox.

email inbox

It's nearly as insufferable a habit as starting a conversation by ranting about how busy or stressed you are. Get your inbox under control, and stop whining about it.

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