What to avoid in emails

I recently read an article (German: Die nervigsten E-Mail-Gewohnheiten) on what to avoid in emails from the otherwise excellent that I found poor and undifferentiatedThe article is apparently based on a mashup of and Swiss newspaper survey results. They also referenced this guardian article, which is a lot funnier, so I think a lot got lost in translation. Anyway it prompted me to write this reply:

It makes a difference who you are talking to

"I am not sure if you have read my last email" apparently creates lots of frustration.


If you are talking to a colleague, customer, investor or boss it is perfectly fine to send a reminder if he/she doesn't reply in 1 week or so. Sometimes it's even your duty to check up why the other guy is not taking action. "I am wondering if you got my email" is a perfectly polite way to express that.

It's a different story if you get illegal spam emails from Eastern European outsourcing companies. Of course they will followup with annoying "did you get my messages" emails. They do so not because they want to be polite, but because it works for them in ways they care about. It raises their success rate, selling their services. They face little to no consequences for abusing the system.

Rerferencing pervious oral communication

Especially the hint that something was communicated before seems to create anger, because respondents also voted for "as mentioned before" and "as discussed"


No, no, no. This is not impolite. It's a good practice to reference oral communication in a written followup. First of all you want to remind the other person that what you are writing is not the full story. And secondly it can help you in legal arguments when suddenly the other person can't "remember" any more what you talked about.

Referencing a previous email can be a little daunting, but has its uses when you want to point out that this is not the first time the issue was raised.

Excessive "CCing" (sending email to more recpients)

the habit to CC countless coworkers, even if it's often not obvious, how this person is related to the topic.


Of course CCing is a balance act. But when CCing, always err on CCing more people. It's much more annoying to not know about something that you should know, than to getting extra (unnecessary) information. Especially if one is so easily to correct for while the other one isn't.

It's good practice that when the discussion gets too detailed, to clean up the CC-list. E.g. you CCed your boss in the project kickoff email, but then your counterpart replies with project details that you don't want to bother your boss with. You would at the next reply move your boss from CC to BCC. And mention in the email body that you have done so. This way, the person you just moved to BCC is aware that he/she has been removed from the email thread but the discussion is still ongoing. The other people know that the person moved to BCC still got the last email. And the next time someone Replys he/she won't get spamed any more.

If you are the target of unnecessary email, and you can't afford to keep up, do the same but with yourself.

Interrupting the recipient at his desk with an immediate followup to your email

if a colleague sends an email and a short time period later shows up at the desk of the recipient to tell him/her about the email.


This one is actually true. But what the article doesn't mention is that while it's annoying for the recipient, it's completely devastating for the impatient sender.

Why? Because if you send an email, you should put time into writing it. Why then approach the recipient before he/she has even read it?
Moreover the recipient will then immediately reply orally, and might not address all the points that you (the sender) have made in your email. But he will not see a need any more to reply to your email, because "you already talked about it" anyway.

If you must have an immediate response prefer call, or instant messaging. Email is only for communication that doesn't require immediate action. If you feel the need to both write and talk (e.g. for legal reasons, or so you don't forget what was discussed), always talk first, never email first.

If the article is so bad what are some more points to actually watch out for?

The most important: Reply within 2 days, or set an out of office reply. If you can't reply within 2 days send a "sorry I am busy" email.

Always "Reply all", never "reply single". If you reply single you are breaking the email thread. And you are now personally responsible for creating unnecessary "did you do this already?" replies and "out of the loop" persons.
There's nothing more annoying than having to repeat yourself, or having to repair the chain by replying again and manually copy-pasting the addresses back in because some idiot can't be bothered to reply correctly.

Before you start typing ask yourself what the goal of this email is. Then write accordingly.

Always write email as succinctly as possible. Put the most important sentence first.

Thank your correspondents. I am convinced that you should always appreciate when people take time to read or reply. And when you show that it goes a long way.

Write the email how you think the message will be best understood by the reader, not how you would summarize it to yourself.

Always ask yourself "would this email get me into trouble if it ended up in court?" before hitting "send".

I highly recommend this book: HBR Guide to Better Business Writing

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