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E-Mail Etiquette Guidelines for Connecticut State Government

The purpose of E-Mail Etiquette Guidelines for Connecticut State Government is help e-mail
users understand the basics of e-mail communication:
     Conventions and style elements: what is proper to post or send.
     How to present oneself effectively and professionally via e-mail messages, e-mail
        distribution lists (or Listservs) and/or Newsgroups.

Agencies may consider providing additional restrictions and guidelines regarding the use of
electronic mail within their local environments. In considering the need for additional restrictions
and guidelines, each agency may take into account its particular needs, mission, available
technology, level of staff training, size, geographic diversity, and organizational culture.
This policy also incorporates by reference, the "Electronic Mail Acceptable Use Policy for
Connecticut State Government - Version 1.5" at

A. Guidelines for Effective E-Mail Communication
1. Know your audience.

Communication and especially mail conventions may vary between groups. Remember that the
recipient is a human being whose culture, language, and humor may have different points of
reference from your own. Remember that date formats, measurements, and idioms may not
travel well. Be especially careful with sarcasm, slang or local acronyms. Also be mindful that
different users have different levels of experience with technology applications like e-mail. Be
patient and supportive with new users.

2. Identify yourself.

Identify your affiliation, title, background, and expertise in your e-mail message, especially if
you are acting on behalf of an organization or professional association, or if you have relevant
background or expertise in a matter. You can create this file ahead of time and add it to the end
of your messages. (Some mail clients do this automatically.) In Internet parlance, this is known
as a ".sig" or "signature" file. Your .sig file takes the place of your business card. If you include
a signature keep it short. Rule of thumb is no longer than 4 lines.

3. Keep messages brief and to the point.

Make your messages "concise" not cryptic. Shorter paragraphs have more impact and are more
likely to be read by busy people. Most people can only grasp a limited number of ideas within a
single paragraph, especially on a computer screen.

When replying to a message, include enough original material to be understood but no more. It is
extremely bad form to simply reply to a message by including all the previous message: edit out
all the irrelevant material.
4. Attachments: Know how large a message you are sending.

Attaching large document files, images or programs may make your message so large that it
cannot be delivered or consumes excessive resources. A good rule of thumb would be not to
send a file larger than 50 Kilobytes. Consider including Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) or
pointers to ftp-able versions, or cutting the file into smaller chunks and sending each as a
separate message.
Don't send large amounts of unsolicited information to people.

4. Use subject entries; Try to keep messages to a single subject.

Mail should have a subject heading which reflects the content of the message. The subject line of
an e-mail message serves a number of important purposes: (l) it enables busy people to discern
the subject of a message and when it must be read; (2) it is used to index the message in
mailboxes and file folders; (3) it may be used to identify what messages are "records" and need
to be transferred to a central recordkeeping system in the agency.

5. Format messages for easy reading.

White space enhances the look and clarity of an email message, and a blank line only adds a byte
to the message so don't be stingy. Lengthy messages are almost always read in hard copy form
and should be prepared accordingly (e.g., with cover sheets, headers, page numbers, and

6. Separate opinion from non-opinion.

So that readers do not confuse personal opinion with agency policy or position, use labels and
explanatory notes to distinguish opinion from fact. If necessary, include a brief disclaimer.

7. Label messages that are meant to be humorous and be careful with sarcasm.

Use established conventions or explanatory notes to alert the recipient that a message is meant to
be taken humorously. Facial expressions, voice inflection and other cues that help recipients to
interpret a message are absent from e-mail. You can't always control when and in what context a
message will be read. It might be read at the wrong time or by the wrong party. The reader
might not understand your intention.

8. Avoid sending e-mail in anger or as an emotional response.

It is best not to send these kinds of messages over e-mail. Such situations are better worked out
in person or in another forum. If you are caught in an argument or disagreement, keep the
discussion focused on issues rather than the personalities involved.

9. Don't be hasty.

If a message or posting generates negative feelings, set it aside and reread it later. An immediate
response is often a hasty response. Don't rule out the possibility that a misunderstanding or
misinterpretation might occur. It is common with e-mail because of the lack of physical cues.
10. Use Mixed Case: avoid putting text in all capital letters.

Most users suggest that you avoid putting all text in caps because it may seem ANGRY or
HARSH. Uppercase text is often interpreted as having extra emphasis.

11. Cite the appropriate references and context of a message.

Reference any related e-mail message or posting, and the event, topic, or issue that your message
refers to, in order to avoid being taken out of context and misinterpreted. Take the time to back
up your statements with references to documents or articles just as you would in written material.

If you are forwarding or re-posting a message you've received, do not change the wording. If the
message was a personal message to you and you are re-posting to a group, you should ask
permission first. You may shorten the message and quote only relevant parts, but be sure you
give proper attribution.

12. Be careful what you say about yourself and others.

As a general rule of thumb, don't commit anything to e-mail that you wouldn't want to become
public knowledge. Think twice before posting personal information about yourself or others.
There is always the chance that a message could end up in someone else's hands. Be aware that e-
mail messages are often retained on system backup tapes and disks in central computing facilities
after they are deleted from the mail system.

13. Proofread.

Spelling and grammar mistakes can be just as distracting in an e-mail message as they are in
written communications. Take the time to proofread your messages, especially messages that
are used to communicate or document agency business.

14. Reread your mail for content and tone before you send it.

On many systems, once you send a message you are committed to it, and cannot retract it.

15. Respect the privacy rights of others.

Don't invade privacy. Don't forward or distribute messages without permission. Don't read other
people's mail. If you receive someone else's mail, e.g. because the sender entered a wrong
address or you happen upon a PC or terminal someone failed to log-off of, use the same
consideration you would with traditional mail. Inform the appropriate party, see that the mail is
returned, and notify your network administrator.

16. Only post messages when they are relevant.

17. Don't make messages "urgent" when they don't need to be.

Most of us learned the lesson of "the boy who cried wolf" quite some time ago. In today's world,
this lesson rings true for the misuse of priority mail notices. These notices will soon become
meaningless with overuse.
18. Don't over-distribute e-mail.

Every message you send creates work for someone else who must read, consider, and deal with
the message. It may be better to post some messages on an electronic bulletin board in order to
reduce the number of copies routed to individual users.

19. Be aware of differences across e-mail systems.

Others may not have the same e-mail features or capabilities you have, in which case, avoid
special control characters like bold, underline, and special fonts; even tabs can differ. With the
exception of binary (program) files, keep your lines under 80 characters; if possible don't exceed
72 characters. Be sure that your editor inserts carriage returns at the end of each line; if not,
enter a hard return. Be extra careful with graphics. Whenever possible, find out in advance what
e-mail features and software tools your recipients have.

20. Respect copyright and license agreements.

Copyright laws are applicable to e-mail networks. Some software that is available for public
retrieval through the Internet requires a valid license from the vendor in order to use it legally.
Posting information on networks is similar to publication. Be careful to cite references.

21. Don't be fooled by the illusion of privacy.

Assume that your message could be around for a long time. It is easy to copy, store
electronically or in hard copy), resurrect, and forward anything you write in e-mail. Unless you
are using an encryption device (hardware or software), you should assume that mail on the
Internet is not secure.

22. Don't send abusive, harassing, or bigoted messages.

This is inappropriate and counterproductive for obvious reasons and reflects badly on the
individual and the entire organization. Even on wide area networks, e-mail can usually be traced
to the originating machine and user. Systems on the Internet are actually liable for the misdeeds
of their users.

B. Guidelines for E-Mail Distribution Lists and Newsgroups
1. Save the subscription messages.

Save the subscription messages for any lists or News Groups that you join. These will usually
tell you how to unsubscribe as well.

2. Consider that a large audience will see your posts.

Consider that a large audience will see your posts and it may include your colleagues and co-
workers. Take care in what you write. Remember too, that mailing lists and Newsgroups are
frequently archived, and that your words may be stored for a very long time in a place to which
many people have access.
3. Identify yourself.

Make things easy for the recipient(s). In order to ensure that people know who you are, be sure to
include a line or two at the end of your message with contact information. This will guarantee
that any peculiarities of mailers or newsreaders that strip header information will not delete the
only reference in the message of how people may reach you. You can create this file ahead of
time and add it to the end of your messages. (Some mailers do this automatically.) In Internet
parlance, this is known as a ".sig" or "signature" file. Your .sig file takes the place of your
business card.

4. Messages and articles should be brief and to the point

Messages and articles should be brief and to the point. Don't wander off-topic, don't ramble and
don't send mail or post messages solely to point out other people's errors in typing or spelling.

5. Distributing Large Files

Don't send large files to mailing lists when Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) or pointers to ftp-
able versions will do. If you want to send it as multiple files, be sure to follow the culture of the
group. If you don't know what that is, ask.

6. Adding context with your reply

If you are sending a reply to a message or a posting be sure you summarize the original at the top
of the message, or include just enough text of the original to give a context. This will make sure
readers understand when they start to read your response. Giving context helps everyone. If you
ask a question, be sure to post a summary. When doing so, truly summarize rather than send a
cumulation of the messages you receive.

7. Be careful when you reply to messages or postings

Frequently replies are sent back to the address that originated the post - which in many cases is
the address of a list or group! You may accidentally send a personal response to a great many
people, embarrassing all involved. It's best to type in the address instead of relying on "reply."

8. Gratuitous replies to replies

Avoid sending messages or posting articles that are no more than gratuitous replies to replies.

9. Disagreement with one person

 If you should find yourself in a disagreement with one person, make your responses to each
other via mail rather than continue to send messages to the list or the group. If you are debating a
point on which the group might have some interest, you may summarize for them later.

10. Do not use Auto-reply features

The auto-reply feature (and /or delivery receipt, non-delivery notice and vacation programs) of
many mailers is useful for in-house communication, but quite annoying when sent to entire
mailing lists. In short, do not use them. Consider unsubscribing when you cannot check your
mail for an extended period.

11. Cross-Posting

When sending a message to more than one mailing list, especially if the lists are closely related,
apologize for cross-posting.

Parts of this Guide to E-Mail Etiquette incorporates conventions and similar guidelines compiled by:
Gargano, Guide to Electronic Communication and Network Etiquette (1989); Goode and Johnson,
"Putting Out the Flames: the Etiquette and Law of E-Mail." ONLINE, (1991); Krol, The Whole Internet
User's Guide and Catalogue, (1989); and Robinson, Delivering Electronic Mail (1992).

Netiquette Guidelines, October 1995, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1855.txt, Sally Hambridge
Intel Corporation

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