Talking Shop: Members share e-mail pet peeves

Avoid these e-mail grievances and go for more effective correspondence.

As we recently found out when Jake Necessary wrote an article outlining his code of e-mail etiquette, TechRepublic members are very opinionated when it comes to e-mail. Although many TechRepublic members agree with Necessary’s recommendations, some take issue with certain elements of the code. This article highlights member e-mail grievances and offers recommendations for more effective correspondence.

For several TechRepublic members, using emoticons (icons composed of punctuation marks) in business correspondence is annoying at best. Member Ken Garrett never uses them for formal correspondence:
“If I think my words will incur two meanings, I stop and think of other words to make my correct gesture appear in the e-mail. I have not yet had to do a follow-up e-mail containing an apology for my first e-mail based on an incorrect meaning.”

According to Helpdesk Warrior, emoticons “are great for people who can’t express themselves properly or who are easily impressed by gimmickry. By the age of 14, most people are past this stage.”

Some members agree that there is a time and place for emoticons, just not in certain business situations. Member t_bonee writes:
“Are they annoying? Maybe. Unprofessional? Most likely, yes. I wouldn’t use them in an e-mail to the company VP. But to a friendly coworker or even a friend or family member, why not?”

The reply process
Company-wide e-mails can result in irritating replies sent to all recipients. Member kim_bearden suggests that organizations remind users of the difference between Reply and Reply To All.

“Too many people at our company get these two confused. So when we have a mass e-mail going out to corporate, such as benefits renewal, we have several employees respond by choosing Reply To All. The bad part about that is that everyone at corporate knows their personal issues regarding their health insurance.”

In Microsoft Outlook, the Reply and Reply To All buttons are located next to one another, making it easy for a user to hit either one. TechRepublic member jstasney suggests customizing the toolbar and moving the two options further away from one another. Alternatively, the Reply To All option can be removed altogether from the toolbar. The user is then forced to click on the message pull-down menu to access a Reply To All.

Some members consider it good practice to trim down the original message when replying to a sender. When kenneth_porter replies to a sender, he “…only retains enough of the replied-to message to maintain context. Presumably, the sender has the original message in his or her Sent box and doesn’t need to keep multiple copies.”

Attachments are also considered unnecessary when sending a reply. Member halle offers this recommendation:
“When I reply to someone's e-mail with an attachment, I always reply with history. However, I also delete the attachment that they sent so it doesn't get sent back to them. They don't need the file back; they already have it!”

Use the subject field
According to Paul.Tiffany, the subject field is a useful option that is often neglected:
“The biggest problem in my experience is ineffective or downright improper use of the subject field. It's amazing how many people send e-mails with no subject or the wrong subject—particularly in responses.

“Inappropriate subjects also make it difficult to file, forward, or provide meaningful responses.”

Return receipts: Helpful when used selectively
Another useful e-mail function that can be misused is the return receipt option that notifies the sender when the message is received. According to member keen, users should be discerning when using this function. When sending an e-mail to a large group of recipients, the return receipt function can end up cluttering the sender’s inbox with notification messages.
Are there certain e-mail habits or capabilities that annoy you? Do you have suggestions for users or administrators to curb common e-mail problems? Join the discussion and share your complaints and advice.

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