Email Etiquette

Email: you get too much of it already, you’ll get waaaay too much of it at Harvard. It is arguably the most important communication tool on campus. Professors will use it. You’ll use it. Your friends will use it, everyone in your club/house/organization will use it.

Thus, it’s important to understand the rules of emailing, or else people will start to tune you out.

(BTW, am still getting into the tandem of posting, so forgive me for this late post.)

1) Reply-All: don’t look like a dick.

Because you’ll join (or be added to) many, many mailing lists for your house/organizations, you want to TRIPLE CHECK that you’re replying to who you want to. I’ve seen a number of slightly awkward Reply-All emails that were meant to go directly to the sender, but instead got sent out to a few hundred people.

Don’t do it. While everyone is addicted to email, that doesn’t mean everyone actually likes getting emails that aren’t applicable to them. (There may be a few exceptions.)

2) G-chat does not equal email.

G(oogle)-chatting someone is not the same as emailing someone. G-chat is appropriate for getting in quick contact with people (or for goofing around with your friends). I’ll only touch on the more “professional” aspects of g-chatting.

Say, you’re organizing a major event, but someone drops the ball, and you need to talk to someone you work with on your organization. It is appropriate to g-chat them, ask them quick questions, or (if it is urgent) demand quick action.

What is not appropriate is if you give someone a to-do list longer than 2 steps in a g-chat and expect them to remember that for the next week. G-chat is transient. No one logs their g-chat messages, but everyone logs/filters/stars their emails.

(Also, if you are NOT using gmail (or Thunderbird) as your primary communication source but rather Harvard’s default and defunct email system, you need to ask a more tech-savvy friend to help you update.

3) Capitalization and punctuation

If you are emailing someone you do not know very well (president of your student org., professors, an entire house list), please observe the conventions of prose with regards to capitalization and punctuation. Do not send Mankiw an email saying: “omg hi, i likes your book cool!”

The exceptions to the above are when what you’re sending out is very informal and meant to be so. “hi guys, found this cool video on you tube. check it out.” But basically, keep this relaxed form of language usage to a couple lines tops.

With regards to capitalization, use it sparingly and with good intent. We’re all busy. We all scan our emails. Use caps to CAPTURE someone’s attention. Good examples: “Subj: IMPORTANT: Production information” and “Do NOT use the telephones to call long distance.”

4) Sending attachments

This is elementary. But please make sure you attach what you were meant to attach. No one likes that annoying second email with the important attachments. It’s harder to keep track of both.

Also, if your attachment is too big, use something like or or to send it over the internet. You may use your own Harvard server space, but do not use your organization’s internal server (that’s BAD, organizations are generally poor, and no one needs to go over their bandwidth because you want to share a 1 gb file).

5) Relevant Subject Titles

Obvious. For obvious reasons. You want people, when they’re searching their gmails for that important email to send out, to be able to pick it out amongst 500 emails that sort of look the same from you.

I’m guilty, however, of the “Hey!” as a subject title…but that’s because I’m usually trying to get someone to do something.

6) Thank you’s are nice.

If you bug someone, jot a quick thanks.

7) Email signatures

I personally find them annoying, but they are v. popular. They usually have your name, class year, concentration, mailing address. They always look somewhat pretentious because “Harvard College” is always mentioned.

Similarly, always having “President of the Adventuring Club” under your name also looks somewhat annoying too.

But this is personal preference. Some find it helpful. Those outside the community find it helpful. If you need to bug a lot of people, it might be helpful.

But at the end of the day, make sure you sign off with something like a real personalized signature (unless it’s a quick reply).

For example:


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