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Lesson 4: Email Etiquette and Safety

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Introduction

Like any form of online communication, it's important to practice good etiquette and safety when using email. Etiquette is a set of rules and guidelines that people use to communicate more effectively. You should also know how to protect yourself from certain risks, like malware and phishing.

In this lesson, we'll discuss writing more effective emails using good email etiquette, both for personal use and in the workplace. We'll also talk about different strategies for using email safely.

Tips for email success

Here are some basic rules you can follow to write better emails, no matter who you're emailing. In some cases, it's OK to break these rules. Use these rules as a starting point, then tailor each email you send based on the situation.

Click the arrows in the slideshow below to learn more about basic email etiquette.

  • Click the arrows to learn more about basic email etiquette and common mistakes to avoid.
  • Just like a written letter, it's nice to add a greeting such as
  • People are more likely to read an email if they know what it’s about, so be sure to include a relevant subject line. Avoid long or rambling messages, but provide enough detail to make the email clear.
  • Your recipients may not be able to recognize irony or sarcasm in email, as in the example above, which can lead to misinterpretation or confusion. It's best to phrase things in the clearest way possible.
  • Double-check the Cc and Bcc fields when replying to a message. It’s easy to include recipients by accident. In the example above, the email was meant for the original sender, but includes extra recipients.
  • Be sure to check that your message is free from spelling and grammatical errors and that you’ve correctly entered your recipient’s email address. Remember, emails can’t be unsent!
  • Your email service may have various text formatting options, but be aware that formatting can make your emails difficult to read. Excessive text formatting can also look unprofessional.
  • Many people create elaborate signatures with lots of contact information. However, this can make it hard to know how you want to be contacted. Include only your preferred contact info.
  • Writing in all capitals is equivalent to shouting online. Your recipient may mistakenly think that you're angry or upset. Also, emails written in all caps are much more difficult to read.
  • Chain emails can spread quickly because they are forwarded to lots of people, who then forward them to others, and so on. Many are hoaxes, and even those that aren't may annoy your recipients.
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Email attachment etiquette

Attachments are an easy way to share files, photos, and more, but many people aren't aware of some of the most common attachment mistakes. Be sure to follow these basic rules when including attachments in your emails.

Mention included attachments

Never attach a file without mentioning it in the body of your email. Something as simple as I've attached a few photos to this email will help your recipients know what to expect. On the other hand, make sure the attachments you mention are actually included with the message—it's easy to focus on your message and forget to include the file itself. We recommend attaching any files before you start writing.

Mentioning an included attachment

Consider file size and format

Avoid sending excessively large attachments or uncompressed photos, which can take a long time for your recipients to download. You can always ZIP or compress files to make them easier to send. Additionally, make sure your attachments don't need to be viewed in a specific application—use universal file types like .PDF, .RTF, and .JPG.

Attaching a ZIP file

Only include related files

If you need to send a lot of different files to the same person, consider sending the attachments through multiple emails. If you include several unrelated files in the same email, it can be difficult for your recipients to find the exact file they need.

Sending only related attachments

While attachments are still an easy way to share files quickly over email, many people have begun using cloud-based storage services like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive to share large files. Rather than sharing the file itself, you can share a link, allowing others to access the file remotely. Check out our lessons on sharing files in Google Drive and sharing files in OneDrive to learn more.

Using email in business

Whether you're using email at work or applying for a job, the normal rules of email etiquette still apply. However, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind, as business emails can affect your professional reputation.

Click the arrows in the slideshow below to learn more about using email in the workplace.

  • Click the arrows to learn more about email etiquette and professional communication in the workplace.
  • When applying for a job, make sure that your email address isn’t too extreme or unprofessional. As in the example above, an address like party.dude826@yahoo.com could give others a bad impression.
  • While emails are less formal than written letters, using informal language can seem very unprofessional, as in the example above.
  • Using profanity in a workplace email is extremely unprofessional. In some cases, it might even result in disciplinary action.
  • Keep in mind that your company may read your email. As in the example above, you should never send anything derogatory or offensive about your coworkers or your workplace.
  • Make sure your email is addressed to the right people, especially when sending a reply. In the example above, the message criticizes the original sender while accidentally including him as a recipient.
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Remember, you should never use your work email account for personal communication. It's best to get your own personal account from a webmail service like Gmail, Yahoo!, or Outlook.com. To learn more about using the right tone for work email, check out our How Formal should an Email be? lesson.

Email safety

Email is not totally secure, so you should avoid sending sensitive information like credit card numbers, passwords, and your Social Security Number. In addition, you may receive emails from scammers and cybercriminals. The first step in dealing with email safety concerns is understanding them so you know what to look for.

Spam emails

Spam

Spam is another term for junk email or unwanted email advertisements. It's best to ignore or delete these messages. Luckily, most email services offer some protection, including spam filtering.

Phishing

Certain emails pretend to be from a bank or trusted source in order to steal your personal information. It's easy for someone to create an email that looks like it's from a specific business. Be especially cautious of any emails requesting an urgent response.

Attachments

Some email attachments can contain viruses and other malware. It's generally safest not to open any attachment you weren't expecting. If a friend sends you an attachment, you may want to ask if he or she meant to send it before downloading.

Learn more about important online safety issues in our Internet Safety tutorial.

Setting up your own email account

Now that you've finished exploring Email Basics, you may feel ready to set up your own email account. You can get a free email account from any major webmail provider, including Yahoo!, Outlook.com, and Gmail.

Our Gmail tutorial will provide step-by-step instructions for sending, receiving, and managing your email.

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