The other day I opened my inbox to find yet another email with a red exclamation point.
I could feel my face heating up and turning as red as that stupid exclamation point. I wondered who was sending me this email and what was so urgent on Friday at 4 p.m. Did it really warrant an exclamation point?
As I suspected, it wasn’t an urgent email—at least not urgent for me. It was just another person annoying me by using that exclamation point for something that was urgent for them. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that some things require immediate attention, but nine out of 10 times, when someone includes that red exclamation point it really doesn’t apply. Can you tell this is a pet peeve?
So, today, I have for you a “Top 10 List,” David Letterman-style. Here are the “Top 10 Ways to Annoy Your Colleagues with Email.”
No. 10: Read this (just because I said so)
I really hate it when someone sends me a link with a short, vague note that says, “I think you’ll like this,” or, “You should take a look at this.” I never understand why the sender didn’t take another minute to explain why I should take a look or why I would like it. When I see an email like this, I usually assume it’s not worth my time and delete it—but that has gotten me into hot water. If you want a colleague to read or watch something, briefly explain in the email why they should take the time to do what you ask of them.
No. 9: Reply now!
Please don’t expect an immediately reply, and then get mad if you don’t get it. Please don’t send me an instant message to tell me you just sent me an email and you want me to reply ASAP. If I am not responding to email, usually it’s because I’m with a client or I’m working offline so that I don’t get interrupted. If you have something that is urgent, then email isn’t the best way to reach me. May I introduce you to an antique communication apparatus known as the telephone?
No. 8: Leave the subject line blank
The subject line is the most important part of the email. It’s how the receiver will prioritize your message. When I get an email with no subject line, I’m tempted to send it straight to the trash, because quite often spam emails don’t have subject lines. Instead, I’m forced to open it and read it before can I decide what to do with it.
No. 7: Use a stale subject line
I have nothing against recycling, except when it comes to email subject lines. I understand that one email will often spawn several different discussions. If you change the topic being discussed in an email chain, update the subject line; please don’t reuse the same one, or you’ll just create confusion for all parties.
No. 6: Reply all
When you receive an email that has been sent to a large list, it is important to consider whether everyone on that list needs to see your reply. I often see this with congratulatory messages. The email says, “We are so proud of Ricky and his latest accomplishment!” and suddenly you have 30 replies saying “Congrats!” “Way to go!” and on and on. Before you hit “reply all,” think about whether everyone on the “To” line needs to see your answer. It would be more personal if you sent your congratulations privately, or better yet, with a handwritten note.
No. 5: Give my email address to everyone you know
When you send a group email and include all the recipients on the “To” or “Cc” line, a whole group of people that I don’t know, now have my email address. If you want to include me, then use the Bcc function (blind copy) to hide my address.
No. 4: Send unsolicited jokes or information
I have some family members who forward every piece of information they get via email to everyone they know. I enjoy learning new things all the time, but please check your information on Snopes.com before sending it on to me (Snopes is a website that confirms or denies urban legends). It’s a good idea to check whether what you’re sending is true, because hoax emails frequently contain viruses. Please research and scan them before you forward anything—if you don’t have time for that, then please don’t send it along.
No. 3: Send first drafts
I’m not quite sure why, but I often receive long stream-of-consciousness emails from people. They sound as though the person is talking impromptu, and there are no breaks whatsoever. It’s just the person writing whatever pops into their heard without any regard to grammar, punctuation, or theme.
Don’t get me wrong—this kind of writing can be therapeutic and can even help you flesh out your ideas. However, this is your first draft, and you should not send it to anyone yet. If you must write that way, edit it. Then edit again, before you hit send. Be sure your most important point is first and the rest of your important points stand out. Take out any unnecessary words, and add punctuation where it is needed. The clearer and more concise your email, the more likely it is that your recipients will read it, understand it, and act on it.
No. 2: Send a laundry list
Emails that cover too many topics can be confusing and hard to track later. If you can, try to keep emails to one topic. If you need to cover a few things, keep them short and organized. Use bullet points or numbering to clearly identify the separate issues. If you’ve got more than four topics, it’s probably better to send separate emails.
No. 1: Use red exclamation points for everything
Finally, the reason I started this list. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Your lack of planning is not my emergency”? If you have a real emergency, call or get a hold the person in person. If email is your only option, start your subject line with “Urgent:” and then use clear words to convey the emergency. For example, “URGENT: Client needs updated proposal by 5 p.m. today.”
There are so many ways to annoy your co-workers with email. If that’s your goal, I’ve given you plenty of ammunition. But if your goal is clear communication and productive workdays, then think about your emails before you send them, and avoid these 10 bad habits.
A version of this article first appeared on Quick and Dirty Tips.