Last updated: Friday, August 03, 2018

We've already mentioned emails on the previous pages, but here we consider them in a little more detail.

Email is a quick way to communicate, and it can be relatively informal, so it’s easy to cause offence or misunderstanding without realising it. An email is a permanent record of what you say, like a letter. It can be produced as evidence if there is a complaint about you, and laws such as the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act can be used to obtain copies of emails you send.

** Remember that an email you send at work is not private, even if you’ve deleted it from your system **

Here are some tips to make life easier for you and the people you email.

Composing your email

It’s all about being polite and professional:

  • If it’s a sensitive subject, it’s often better to phone the person or meet them instead of sending an email. You can follow it up with an email later perhaps.

  • Give your email a title so people know what it’s about.

  • Address the person you’re emailing by their name, and include your name at the end of the email.

  • Have an email sign-off with your name, the days you work if part-time, and your phone number.

  • Be clear and concise. Keep it short and to the point because everyone’s busy. You can still do this and be friendly if that’s your style.

  • Avoid being over-familiar or flippant with someone you don’t know well enough.

  • Writing sentences in capitals is called ‘shouting’ and is considered rude.

  • Use the c/c function to copy in other people who need to know what you’re saying, or who may need to act upon it. Don’t use this function to embarrass or intimidate people into replying or doing what you want them to.

  • Only use the b/c function when you are following data protection rules and you don’t want to give away private email addresses.

  • Try not to use big attachments (bigger than 5MB) as it clogs up email inboxes quickly. Some organisations don’t accept incoming emails with big attachments.

  • Only mark the email as urgent or priority (!) if it really is urgent.

  • Think about who actually needs to receive the email and do not “reply to all” unless really necessary.

Receiving an upsetting email

If you receive an email that upsets you, then take time before replying, if at all. Our tips in this situation:

  • Show the email you’ve received to a colleague and discuss it privately.

  • Do not reply when you are angry. You’ll always regret it later.

  • Don’t use the “Reply to All” function, or add in new recipients, just to demonstrate how angry you are to an audience. This escalation just makes it harder for everyone to back down.

  • If you decide to reply: draft your response, have a break from it, then read through it carefully.

  • Ask a colleague to check it before you send it!

  • If you can’t decide how to reply, it is usually better not to reply at all. Sometimes the most effective way to deal with a rude email is just to ignore it.

  • It may be better not to perpetuate the problem by replying via email, and offering to talk instead.

  • Your employer will have policies for dealing with obscene material sent by email and for tackling bullying. Make sure you know about these.

When you’re away...

Use the out-of-office function to tell people when you will be back and provide appropriate contact details for someone else who can help while you’re away (make sure you ask them first).

What next?

The CPPE's programme Managing Email is a guide to all aspects of email communication, from email etiquette to constructing concise and well-ordered emails, to ensuring you manage your inbox efficiently. Attempt this now, or bookmark the link so that you can come back to it later.