The art of email

Email is convenient and a great way to keep in touch. It makes it easy to forward information, pictures, and links to websites. But to avoid being an email pest, it’s a good idea to follow a few basic rules.

Be brief and avoid flourishes
While it can be cathartic and touching to write a long heart-felt email, most of the time it’s better to be brief. Also avoid the temptation to use fancy (HTML) fonts and backgrounds in your email – in some email programs this will come across as gibberish.

At the same time be sure that you send all the information that the other person needs. This is particularly important if you are asking for help.

Look out for big files
Before you attach a large photograph or document to an email, let the person know that you’re doing so. Many people have limited space in their email account (although this is gradually changing) or may not have the software to open it at their end. By alerting them you can be sure that you won’t be causing any problems.

Ask before you forward
Before you start to forward cute sayings, jokes, and movie reviews to your family anfriends, be sure that they want them. Many of us truly enjoy getting bright-coloured email with touching stories – and many of us find that it clutters up our inboxes. Even more seriously, if someone has given you his or her work email address, you may be violating their network policies if you forward too much email. Tastes and situations vary, so the only way to be sure is to ask.

Help people track conversations
It can be confusing to have an ongoing conversation in email, particularly if there is a day or two between replies. Because of this, it’s courteous to use “reply” to answer an email rather than to start an email over entirely. This will usually attach the previous email to the bottom of your message and help to remind the recipient what came before.

The exception to this is if you’ve been going back and forth several times. Your message may be getting lost in the length of all the replies! When this happens, use reply, but then delete some of the bottom of the message with the old email. This keeps things manageable.

Check your sources
Recently on we have received emails and had some discussion in the forums around what appeared to be a Toronto Star article which had been forwarded from the site. This supposed article contained some serious misinformation about government benefits for refugees as opposed to benefits for seniors. After looking into it we found that the “article” was actually a letter to the editor at the Star and had not been fact-checked.

Regardless, it had made many seniors very angry about funding of government reports and been forwarded quite widely.

While this is an extreme example, it shows how important it is to pause before you send on any email. You may be perpetuating a hoax or passing along misinformation – and once it comes from you, it may affect your relationships. One way to check for common email hoaxes is to visit a site like the Urban Legends Reference Page at or the Symatec hoax page at When in doubt, the best policy is to ask the person who sent it to you – and if they just got it from someone else, you may want to slow down before you pass it on.

Cool down before you send
One of the disadvantages of the ease of email is how quickly you can fire off an email – and then regret it. Take time to consider your words. Remember too that because email doesn’t communicate body language, anything you say that is harsh can be taken in the worst possible way. When in doubt, wait a day or two before composing your final reply.

Safe signatures
And finally, how you end your email is important. If you are sending business email, it is common to have a signature file with further contact information. But if you are sending personal email – particularly to people that you don’t know – you may want to be more careful. Put your return email address – but not your phone number or other personal information.