Writing Tips

20 Ways to Disrespect My InBox

I’ve been gathering tips and suggestions on e-mail etiquette for a while now, and looking for the opportunity to share them. ‘Respect’ seemed like the right framework, so with no pretences at originality, here’s are some classic ways to disrespect my inbox plus a collection of great links and resouces on how to get it right.

1. Get over-familiar: act like my best buddy when we’ve never met. ‘Hiya’ grates if I don’t know you. Is there something wrong with good morning?

2. Share my e-mail address with the world: put your circulation list for all to see in the cc field rather than taking the time to hide it with bcc

3. Reply to all: hit ‘reply to all’ without thinking about whether I’m interested and want to hear your response (and then the next person’s, and the next person’s)

4. Add a funny quote: slow me down by adding a ‘witty’ quote or saying at the end to distract me before I close. Or maybe two or three, for added effect

5. Ask multiple questions: don’t limit yourself to one clear question but ask a few. Maybe hide one somewhere in the middle of a paragraph. That way your e-mail will linger for hours, days (maybe for ever) in my inbox before I can summon up the strength to answer it

6. Answer as they come in: don’t bother about skimming your in-box before you reply, you’re important after all! Reply to the first e-mail on the subject even if it’s days after the event and the issue’s already been dealt with

7. Use important sounding words: make sure I realise how important the issue is by using lots of jargon and difficult words. Don’t think about turning it into plain English - I might realise the e-mail wasn’t worth writing in the first place

8. Forward everything: Make sure I’ve got everything everyone’s ever said so I’ve got all the background. Don’t worry about the time it takes me to wade through it - think about all the time you saved by not editing

9. Demand an immediate response: it’s important, otherwise why would you send it? What’s unreasonable about an immediate turn around?

10. Don’t bother to edit: we’re talking e-mail here: quick, instant, immediate. Why would you want to take the time to edit - or reflect on what you’re mailing?

11. Write about a sensitive issue: best to get it out there - it’s quick and efficient after all. How could your words possibly be misinterpreted?

12. Ignore the subject line: you want to get it out of your inbox and into mine as quickly as possible, so why waste time on the subject line. Besides, you know what it’s about and 20 other people have already e-mailed on the back of it. What’s not clear about it?

13. Throw in emoticons: never mind that you’ve just dumped a problem on me, an emoticon will make it all seem so much better, don’t you think?

14. Attachments: send me an attachment that bungs up my inbox. Preferably on a Friday afternoon.

15. Write long paragraphs: your subject matter is important so it should look like a proper report. Short paragraphs don’t seem quite serious enough do they, even if they’re easier to read

16. Forget the introductions: write as if you know me. It makes it more likely I’ll respond favorably - or at least slow down for a while as I try and fathom where and when we met

17. Colour me a rainbow: use as many different colours as you can to grab my attention and break up your text. It means I’m much more likely to read your e-mail and to act on the most important bits (which colour was ‘important stuff’ again?)

18. SHOUT: if it’s important, it’s worth putting into capitals

19. Make it high priority: what you’re writing is important, so make sure I know it. Mark all your e-mails high priority to make sure you get my attention

20. Bury the important stuff: see how many ways you can find to disguise the point, losing the decision or the question in long-winded sentences, or making sure it’s camouflaged by flashing icons, multi-coloured paragraphs and quotes that make me smile, think, laugh or go ‘aaah’

Those are some of my worst offenders, and signs that a writer isn’t bothering to respect my inbox, my time or my attention.

What would you add to the list? On a more positive note, what techniques to you use to make sure you show other people’s inboxes the respect they deserve?

This post was inspired and informed by these articles on e-mail writing, management and etiquette:

Kenneth Davis, Manage Your Writing:

Don’t Rely On E-Mail to Communicate Emotion

Urgent Message? Don’t Use E-Mail

Take As Many Swings As You Need

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Business Writing:

Your Untethered Reader

How To Read E-Mail: Backwards

Don’t Do This When E-Mailing a Group

What’s Up With E-Mail Slogans and Sayings?

Hey, Reader!

Roy Jacobsen at Writing, Clear and Simple:

10 More on E-Mail

Chris Brogan on:

Writing More Effective Email

Brian Zafron at Freelance Switch:

The Art of Email Writing and How It Can Make or Break Your Business

Matthew Stibbe at Bad Language on:

10 Laws for Better Email

Scott H Young on

The 7 Bad E-Mail Habits That Make People Want To Kill You

Michele Malay Carter at Mission Minded Management on

I Didn’t Say You Stole The Money - Why You Should Deliver Sensitive Messages in Person

You might also want to explore Roy Jacobsen’s free pdf download:

10 Tips for Effective E-Mail

and Lynn Gaertner-Johnston’s booklet with 101 tips on writing better e-mail (I haven’t purchased this but knowing Lynn’s work am sure it will be a quality product)

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

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25 Responses to “20 Ways to Disrespect My InBox”

  1. On September 8, 2008 at 9:30 am Ricardo Bueno responded with... #

    You know, I believe in the power of relationships. Relationships is all there is! For that reason, I’m all for e-mail and getting to know people. So it’s weird that I’m going to say this but I actually felt a little weird when someone got “over-familiar” in writing me an e-mail. Not necessarily offended or anything…I just felt weird and didn’t know how quite to respond. And now, well, I haven’t heard from the person since which suggests to me that this individual was being disingenuous and THAT, I don’t like.

    Ricardo Buenos last blog post..[Bloggy Question] Have You Unsubscribed Lately?

  2. On September 8, 2008 at 11:47 am Brad Shorr responded with... #

    Splendid advice, Joanna. For business purposes especially, brevity and clarity are so, so important. Who has time to decode a secret message? When I compose an email, I assume the recipient has 100 unread emails in his/her inbox. It helps me get to the point.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Are You Transparent or Translucent?

  3. On September 8, 2008 at 1:20 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Ricardo. I enjoy e-mail too, and it’s a great medium for quick and informal conversations, business transactions and yes relationships too. I think the point is in being ‘over’ familiar. We don’t mind familiar - but we don’t like it when it’s overly so, or without the proper foundations of a longer standing relationship to back it up.


  4. On September 8, 2008 at 1:22 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Brad, that’s a good assumption and framework for composing an e-mail.

    What puzzles me is why so many people don’t follow good e-mail practice. We all receive it, we all complain about it, we all know what kind of e-mails work for us, there’s gazillions of great resources out there that will show you how best to use it… so what is it about e-mail that tempts people (me included at times I’m sure) into bad behaviour? Is it the ease of use do you think?


  5. On September 8, 2008 at 5:20 pm Karen Swim responded with... #

    Joanna, I laughed through the entire list as I recognized each and every point you wrote. Yes, there were a few moments where I cringed as I thought, “Oh my God have I done that!?” This list was right on target. I find myself not using email as much possibly because I personally hate it! I am appalled that even today people will send group emails and not use BCC, this is not a new technology, come on people! I hope others read, laugh, cringe and take note.

    Karen Swims last blog post..Your Choices Determine Your Results

  6. On September 8, 2008 at 5:41 pm Ulla Hennig responded with... #

    I too recognized every point you wrote. When I was on simple dial up connection with the internet I often had to struggle with picture attachments straight out of the camera (2 mbs at least). I hate it when people are acting without thinking (it seemed like that to me).
    Same with over-familiarity (or should we say: sloppy language?). By the way, how would you address someone in your e-mail - dear soandso, or just the first name? I got some e-mail with “Ulla,” or “Hi Ulla”, and as I am not a native speaker I could need some advice here…

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..What I learned from a good friend

  7. On September 8, 2008 at 6:44 pm SpaceAgeSage responded with... #


    Maybe “Howdy,” “Howdoodydo,” “Howdy Doody,” or “Que Paso?” but “Hiya”? Never.

    In business emails, your are so right. For family, I’m just happy when they write.

    SpaceAgeSages last blog post..Five things 15 years of marriage have taught me

  8. On September 8, 2008 at 6:50 pm Scott McIntyre responded with... #

    This is a great list of points, Joanna. It certainly sounds as if they’ve come about through practical experience.

    I think you may recognise this… with my former employer, email overload was a definite problem.

    If you were copied into one reply, it meant you ended up with the entire trail of subsequent emails.

    Pretty soon my inbox would be inundated.

    I would try to avoid being guilty of this by being extremely selective in my choice of recipient.

    Email senders can really help cut down information overload by being a little more discriminating with what they send. It’s a good skill to develop.

  9. On September 9, 2008 at 9:23 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Karen, I was inwardly cringing too, thinking I must at some point have committed one of these e-mail sins! Fortunately there’s only one of my readers (that I know of anyway) who might be able to attest to my former crimes!

    What do you use instead of e-mail - more 1:1 chat options so you can personalise?


  10. On September 9, 2008 at 9:26 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Ulla, the photo attachments can be a killer can’t they? I agree, I think it’s a sign of acting without thinking.

    How to address someone - I’d say it depends on the context. I wouldn’t just use the name - it sounds abrupt to me. ‘Hi Ulla’ is okay if it’s a business or person you’ve been in contact with before. I’d probably stick with ‘dear’ to be on the safe side. But I’m probably rather old-fashioned.

    The site I listed - Lynn Gaertner-Johnston’s - is a fantastic resource on e-mails and writing etiquette. You might want to dig around a bit more there for ideas and suggestions.

  11. On September 9, 2008 at 9:29 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hiya SpaceAgeSage :-)

    I think I was being a bit unkind on ‘hiya’ - but not for formal business communications or from people I’ve never met before. ‘Howdy Doody’ is wonderful. I’ll see if I can work that into an e-mail somewhere and see what happens!

  12. On September 9, 2008 at 9:32 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Scott, fortunately my experience of e-mail is much more enjoyable nowadays. In the world of your/my former employer e-mail overload was desperate. One of the main reasons I knew I had to get away from it. You’d feel like it was a constant running battle - especially when I worked part time and returned back after 2 days away to piles and piles of it.

    Being selective and discriminating in when and how you reply is a key skill in the modern office - and a good way to show respect for other people’s time and energy.


  13. On September 9, 2008 at 12:13 pm Brad Shorr responded with... #

    Joanna, you ask why we engage in bad email practices when we know better. It made me think of how many times I felt like saying to my children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Bad behavior is tempting. I for one have trouble resisting the temptation to add that unnecessary quip or emoticon.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..What I Learned from My Friends about Advertising

  14. On September 9, 2008 at 12:52 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    But Brad, did your children listen? :-)

    I never used an emoticon in my life before I starting writing so much online (not to mention tweeting!) Now it’s hard to stop.

    I think emoticons have a place in e-mail conversation - so long as it’s over and above the right language to explain something, and not by way of half-hearted apology when dumping some horrible task on a colleague!


  15. On September 9, 2008 at 1:35 pm Poewar responded with... #

    I would love to disable the Cap Lock key. That thing is a menace.

    Poewars last blog post..09/08/2008 Writing Jobs and Links

  16. On September 9, 2008 at 1:38 pm Poewar responded with... #

    I think you mean “disrespect”, not “disrepect”

    Poewars last blog post..09/08/2008 Writing Jobs and Links

  17. On September 9, 2008 at 4:39 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    John, indeed - can’t people hear the shouting? It’s beyond me.

    I can’t believe I missed the typo. Thanks…!

  18. On September 9, 2008 at 11:43 pm Joe responded with... #

    I, unfortunately, have done most of the items on this list. Thanks for bringing this to my attention so I can be a better citizen in the online world.

  19. On September 10, 2008 at 4:15 am Mother Earth responded with... #

    What I find amazing is that along the way, someone will say something about the shouting, or the cc vs the bcc, or when to reply all. At least on the learning curve I was on folks were very kind in showing me the “correct” way.

    Email blunders - ever have any? My worst was a reply all with a not so nice comment to one of the recipients.

  20. On September 10, 2008 at 8:29 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Joe, thanks for your honesty! Glad you found the tips useful

    Karen/Mother Earth: I’m glad you found people who could help you along the way rather than people who exploded with their own e-mail rants about those who don’t know how to use e-mail properly (I’ve seen some wild e-mails of that kind over the years).

    Worst blunder: hitting return rather than forward saying some lthings about the original sender I wished I’d never written. Lesson learned: never put anything in an e-mail you’re not willing for others to read in the future. People forward things on without much thought to what’s buried in the back end and your words might just come back to haunt you.




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