In your emails, do you sound like a soulless sociopath? You’re not alone. You may be a warm and friendly person in real life, but there’s something about composing an email that makes the message sound sterile– or downright rude. Perhaps, you’ve opted for excessive smiley faces and Internet slang, like lol or omg, to make your emails sound friendlier. Repeat after me: smiley faces are not the answer. In fact, smiley faces can backfire, and make you sound less professional.

The problem is that emails just aren’t a natural form of communication. They’re not like face to face interactions, where you rely heavily on body language to understand context. Emails are sent minutes, hours, sometimes days before the other person reads it. And, because of that, you can’t edit your tone or direction based on the other person’s response.

When we communicate face to face, we normally feed off of the other person. In fact, laughter is a social cue. You rarely laugh out loud when you’re home alone, or when you’re composing an email– but you do when you’re engaging with another person face to face. It’s all a part of how we relate to each other.

In the solitude of our minds, we’re far less social. We’re almost incapable of re-creating the rich social interactions in the body of the emails that we can with body language and verbal cues. That said, all hope isn’t lost. There are a few email etiquette hacks to help you sound more natural and less rude. Let’s get started.

Tip # 1 – Be Descriptive with Your Subject Line

Your subject line can make or break you. If you’re cold-emailing, it’s especially important to craft the right subject line. A recent statistic shows that 69% of people will mark an email as spam based on the subject line alone. You want your subject line to be clear and explanatory– it should be a teaser about what’s in your email. It’s rude to leave your subject line blank.

Subject Line – Descriptive

Another reason why a blank or undescriptive subject line is rude? It makes it difficult for the other party to file it.

Subject Line – Non Descriptive

Tip # 2 – Use a Greeting and a Closing

Have you ever sold an item on Craigslist that required you to sift through incoming emails? Some (most?) of those emails don’t even acknowledge you as a human being. It’s as if they’re replying to a computer or a robot.

Don’t let that be you.

Instead of disregarding a person’s humanity, start with a hi or hey. It’s a small token of respect. If you know the person’s name, it’s also great to further personalize it. This automatically takes away some of the sterility.

Greeting and Closing

Similarly, be sure to use a closing. You don’t want to end an email abruptly without wishing the person well, or thanking them for their time. Courtesy goes a long way.

Tip # 3 – Get to the Point

Don’t dawdle. An email that meanders around without a clear objective is a waste of the recipient’s time. Email is not the place to hammer out all the tiny details. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be precise. Sometimes, it’s useful to add bullet points in the body of your email to help streamline your message.

Get to the Point

Here’s some stellar advice from author Tim Ferriss: if you’re negotiating a meeting, add several meeting times instead of endlessly shooting emails back and forth. That’s also considerate.

Tip # 4 – Don’t Overshare

If you don’t want to be rude, don’t share what you don’t want others to know. You never know when your sensitive email can get into the hands of another party. Writing negative thoughts about a colleague or team leader over email can backfire. Not only do you run the risk of exposure, you can also damage your own reputation with the recipient.

Tip # 5 – Mind Your Language

Profanity is definitely taboo, but that’s not the only thing you have to look out for. Find different ways to say the same thing. For example, there’s a difference between:

Don’t call me after 5pm. AND I’m available until 5pm.

You’re sharing the same information, but one sounds rude and the other one sounds more open and affable. Instead of using the negative, find a way to make it sound positive. Here’s another example:

Why didn’t you respond to my email?! AND Have you gotten a chance to review my email yet?

It’s always possible to find another way to say the same thing.

Tip # 6 – Include the Previous Email

If you’re replying to an email, make sure that it is copied below your reply. Don’t make the recipient try to remember what they sent to you, especially if you’re referencing it in your reply.

Tip # 7 – Spell Check Like Your Life Depended On It

Not everyone is going to get this, but there’s a typo in that header. And, if you caught it, you can see how a typo is the equivalent of see your colleague with spinach in his teeth– it’s embarrassing and uncomfortable.

Spell Check

Everytime you spell a word incorrectly, a little part of your credibility dies. No one is expecting you to be a spelling bee champion– that’s what spell check is for. All you need to do is click on the spell button and a little red squiggly line will magically appeal on all your faults. However, some email programs automatically spell check– even better.

But you can’t rely on the computer to proofread your email. Sure, spell check is great, but it can’t tell you when “I hate bread” should be “I ate bread.”

Tip # 8 – Don’t Blind Forward

Sometimes, you have to forward your email to another party. Perhaps you need to get another party into the conversation. When you’re faced with this, make sure that you don’t just forward the email blindly without first sending a (brief) note explaining the situation to the recipient. You don’t want them to have to dig through the email to figure everything out. Instead, give them a head’s up like, “Hey John, can you help me out with the below? I’m having an issue with…”

Tip # 9 – NO CAPS

TYPING IN ALL CAPS ARE RUDE. First of all, it’s the text equivalent to screaming. That’s because the reader must read each letter instead of consuming the word whole.


Of course, there are times when you need to emphasize or exclaim. In this case, utilize italics or bold typeface to get the message across. But, by frugal with this type of formatting. If overused, it weakens the emphasis.

Tip # 9 – Reply Within 24 Hours

Nothing’s worse than sending an email and waiting for someone else to respond. Did they receive the email? Are they ignoring you? Should you send it again? When it comes to email replies, you should aim to respond within 24 hours, and sooner if you’re replying to a colleague who you actually see in the office.

24 hr 2

Tip # 10 – Bonus: Get an Undo

Many email programs, GMail included, allow you to reverse a send within a few seconds of pressing the send button. In case you’ve a mistake, forgotten to add a crucial detail, or had a change of heart, you can undo the email easily.

Undo Send Labs

Final Thoughts

You can avoid rudeness in emails by following these simple rules. It only takes a second to find a better way to say something, or to quickly reply. It’s the little things that make email a friendly exchange.

What’s the rudest email you’ve ever received?

Image Coutesy Free Digital Photos

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