Last updated: Sunday, September 25, 2022

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

E-mail 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 e-mail 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 e-mails you send.

** Remember that an e-mail 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 e-mail.

Composing your e-mail

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 e-mail. You can follow it up with an e-mail later perhaps.

  • Give your e-mail a title so people know what it’s about.

  • Address the person you’re e-mailing by their name, and include your name at the end of the e-mail.

  • Have an e-mail 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 CC 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 BCC function when you are following data protection rules and you don’t want to give away private e-mail addresses.

  • Try not to send large attachments as they clog up e-mail inboxes quickly. 

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

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

Receiving an upsetting e-mail

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

  • Show the e-mail 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 e-mail is just to ignore it.

  • It may be better not to perpetuate the problem by replying via e-mail, and offering to talk face-to-face or over the phone instead.

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

While 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 e-mail is a guide to all aspects of e-mail communication, from e-mail etiquette to constructing concise and well-ordered e-mails, to ensuring you manage your inbox efficiently. Attempt this now, or bookmark the link so that you can come back to it later.

Apart from e-mails, pharmacists may be called upon to write formal reports especially when they become more senior. This can be a daunting task if you have not written one before. So you might like to know that the CPPE has a training programme and guide to help you. If you are called upon to write a report, you will find this useful. It provides step-by-step guidance on how to develop a report and a checklist to support you in your task.