Email Etiquette From Your Friendly Neighborhood IT

I've seen this happen way too many times - an email was sent to a massive group of individuals, but the sender didn't blind copy the group, and now you have everyone hitting Reply All and causing a storm.

C'mon... it's not that hard to blind copy... is it?

Here's the thing, though - I was raised on computers. I've grown up with the technology trend, I've tried everything from OS/2 to Windows 3.1 to Ubuntu 9 - I breathe computers. Sometimes I have to make a conscious step back and look at tech from the perspective of the average computer user (it's surprisingly hard). This may be why a lot of IT may have condescending, almost know-it-all attitudes when helping others (and yes, this is a major problem with IT - IT is a customer service component, but no one likes to think that way).

With that said, here's some tips on email etiquette from your friendly neighborhood IT, boiled down to be as understandable as possible... I hope.


Sending Email to Multiple People

Email is a great way to contact multiple people, departments, even organizations to make sure everyone stays informed. Here's some tips to make sure that communication doesn't balloon into noise.

To, CC, BCC - What are these?

Here's my reference for when you want to use these:

  • To - This is for individuals that you explicitly need input from. You expect these people to reply back to you with more information or an acknowledgement.
  • CC - This is for individuals that you want to be informed but do not expect input from. Typically used as a "for your information" for your team members or executives.
  • BCC - This is for individuals that you want to be informed and do not want input from publicly. This can be used as a "for your information", but I've seen it also used in a "cover your ass" situation. Recipients in the BCC field are not shown publicly to the recipients.

Out of all of these, BCC has more uses than it advertises. Here's why.

Blind Carbon Copy

BCC is a powerful utility, and while the uses of it can be good, it can also backfire. Know that BCC'ing everyone is going to result in a lot more issues in the long run. Use it wisely.

Blind carbon copy, or BCC, has multiple different uses. As above, you can use it to inform someone without other recipients knowing - whether you need to as an FYI or a CYA.

Have you ever thought about using it to email groups of people?

If you need to email a mailing list, or multiple mailing lists, but don't want those lists to be exposed to the public, or don't want a reply-all storm to potentially happen, then adding your recipients in the BCC field only can help! I say this from experience - my place of work has mailing lists that can contain hundreds of people and I don't want everyone to (un)knowingly click on Reply All and email everyone in the mailing list their thoughts, concerns, complaints, etc. Adding those lists to BCC allows anyone to reply back only to myself - effectively, it makes repliers anonymous to the group, which can be useful depending on what you're emailing out.

Signatures

The primary use of an email signature should be for contact information. Period. That's not to say that signatures can have other uses, though.

How Can I Reach You, and How Should I Reach You?

Your signature needs to answer the above question. Include your name and phone number at the very least. For business use, include your job title, department, and business name.

Certifications, Degrees?

If you hold a professional certification, or multiple certifications, or college degrees, you typically don't want to put these in unless it's either a high ranking degree or certification(s) related to your job position.

Keep in mind that entry level certifications (and I can only speak to IS/IT here) such as CompTIA's A+, Network+, Microsoft MTAs, ITIL Foundations, or any other foundational cert shouldn't be listed. Those are good for your resume/CV, but not for your email signature. Do you hold a PMP or CISM/CISA, though? Definitely show those off.

Awards?

I've seen this one too, and it amounts to noise in the signature. If you've earned any awards, these are good for your resume/CV to an extent, but don't put them in your signature. I've seen signatures that are significantly longer than the message being sent... please don't do that.

Disclaimers

I'm very outspoken on this one - disclaimers do not belong in your signature (in my opinion). Looking at the US, there are different regulatory bodies that may enforce a disclaimer on emails, but the legal enforcement of those is not quite there. I reference this article from The Economist for more info there.