Email is an essential tool for sharing information. The average office worker receives 121 emails every day. Due to poor email practices, email can become overwhelming and productivity suffers. Adapting email best practices at work can help.
When composing an email
- Use clear, specific subject lines. Keep subject lines direct and to the point so recipients may assess the relevance of an email by subject line alone. Be sure to update the subject line of derailed threads, especially those that have FWD: FWD: FWD:, etc., at the front of the subject line. These are often deleted or ignored.
- Include the right people and state why they are included. Be mindful of the "Cc." Send emails only to the people who require the information and who need to take action.
- Lead with the outcome. Include the purpose of the email and the desired result in the first two or three sentences. If necessary, add explanation and detail below.
- Delegate and specify. If the email is addressed to a group of people, make it clear which action items are assigned to which individuals.
- Maintain privacy. If you are sending to a group of people and need to protect the privacy of the list, always use "Bcc."
- Always include a signature. Someone should not have to look up how to get in touch with you.
When replying to an email
- Remember that you do not need to respond to everything. If it isn't meaningful and actionable or relevant, skip hitting the reply button.
- Keep responses short. Brief, concise responses are best.
- Mind the "Reply all." Do not use it unless everyone on the email chain needs to be included.
- Trim old messages when replying unless you feel they are necessary to the conversation.
- Be aware of phishing attempts. Do not reply to any email requesting your personal information, or linking to a page requesting entry of your personal information. See wmich.edu/phishing.
When sending attachments
- Let the recipient know in the email what you are sending and why.
- Ensure that the file is actually attached, when you say you are sending an attachment.
- Provide logical file names to your attachments.
- Avoid unnecessarily large file sizes. If you must unavoidably send large files, consider sharing them from your W-Exchange OneDrive instead.
Email is not private: what should not be sent via email
- Do not send personal, confidential or sensitive data, whether yours or someone else's. This includes personal academic information (e.g. grades, schedule information, etc.) and medical information (e.g. DSS accommodations, diagnoses, medical documents, etc.). Be aware of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines for electronic communication where appropriate.
- Do not send credit card or other account information (e.g. usernames, passwords).
- Do not send anything you would not want broadcast to the world. Emails may be forwarded, posted to social media and/or read by unintended people.
- Your email is a reflection of you. Check for typos and other mistakes before sending.
Away from the office or busy
- Use the W-Exchange feature "send automatic replies" to let those who send you email know you are not available.
- Use the W-Exchange calendar feature to post your appointments and/or busy times. This will allow those trying to schedule a meeting with you know you are or are not available.
Use of mailing lists and mass email
- Rules for obtaining and using WMU mailing lists
- WMU policy for mass email
- Rules for use of mass email for research at WMU