The Six Worst Business Email Etiquette Mistakes Ever

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Proper Business Email Etiquette – Part 2

If you’re in business, it’s time you learned how to properly send an email. Just because you can open Outlook and click “send” doesn’t mean you’re qualified to use email as a business tool.

This is the second part of a two part series covering the Twelve Worst Business Email Etiquette Mistakes Ever. In this article, we will explore the Top Six Worst Business Email Etiquette Mistakes Ever, to see numbers 7-12, follow this link.

6) Text Messaging – omg ne1 w/brain noz that email n txt msging r 2 difrent things    txting is 4 persnl coms n email is 4 biz   we r rotf over the use of txt msging 4 email

Attention Generation Whatever, email is not just a cumbersome way to send a text message, and business email should never be confused with “texting.” Regardless of what you believe the recipient wants to see, you can never go wrong with properly written, grammatically correct verbiage.  

If you must send email from your cell phone, get a BlackBerry or some other email-ready smart phone with a QWERTY keyboard, activate your spellchecker, and send emails we can all understand without having to ask a 5th grader for help.

5) Attachment Names – Consider your audience, the recipient. What does the filename “my_resume.doc” mean to an HR manager who receives hundreds of resumes each week?

TheManager once received over 500 resumes for a single position posted on Monster.com. In that mix, there were more than 50 attachments with some variation of the name “my resume.” Needless to say, none of those 50 attachments were opened, and TheManager filled the position with someone who understood this basic tenet of email etiquette.

Naming your email attachments for yourself and not for your audience shows a certain level of inconsideration that borders on disrespect. Of course, most of these attachment missteps are more the result of simplemindedness than they are utter rudeness, though all need to be banished.

Filenames should be as descriptive, yet also as short, as possible. Where you have a file that includes date sensitive information, include a date in the filename. Great examples of this are “…_Aug_08” and “…_081308” (today’s date).

When you’re sending an attachment to a customer, include your company’s name somewhere in the filename. Of the 802 email attachments received in the 4,000 emails examined by the editors of AskTheManager.com, 135 contained just the name of the receiving company in the filename. Hey, we know who we work for – we don’t need 135 documents on our hard drives that remind us of this.

4) Email Stationery – Ugh. Nothing sucks the professionalism out of a business email more than a pretty blue background. Just as email and text messaging are two different communication media, email and wedding invitations are also very different. 


Your business emails should never, ever be set to include stationery (sometimes called “email backgrounds”). While there were only twelve examples of stationery usage (from four senders) in the 4,000 emails examined, when those emails were replied to or forwarded, the stationery took over the layout and color of the new email. This required the original recipient to make adjustments to their outbound email, or risk sending out something that was unreadable.

Stay professional, drop the stationery and, while we’re at it, limit your business email signature to name, title, company name, address, contact information and confidentiality verbiage. Including a quote from some long dead philosopher may impress your mother, but it does nothing for a business colleague.

3) Carbon Copy (Cc) – Be careful with this one. Somewhere along the way the initials Cc began to mean “copy carelessly.” Let’s review some email basics:

  • The “To” line represents the primary recipient(s) of the email. This line also indicates who must take action, if action is required.
  • The “Cc” line is used for any secondary or tertiary recipients who must be informed about what is in the body of the email. Think of the cc line as sending an “FYI-Only” email to these people. They should not be expected to take any action on the email, nor even be required to read it.
  • The “Bcc” line, which stands for “blind carbon copy,” is intended to allow the sender to mask the list of recipients. To see the acceptable uses of this line, check out Number 12 on this list by following this link.   

The Cc line is not a license to copy the world. Too often, business people get carried away and include a dozen or so colleagues that couldn’t care less about the email. Unfortunately, the overuse of the Cc line grows the amount of email we all receive exponentially; and it slows down the real productivity of all who are “Cc’d.”

The most egregious instances of Cc occur when it’s used to throw someone under the bus (by copying their boss) or to make you look good (by copying your boss). We’re hopeful that the great business leaders of the world do not reward the use of Cc for personal gain. (If you’re so determined to grow your career, buy a book on career development rather than over-copy your boss in emails – if your boss has half a brain, she sees through it anyway.)

Of the 4,000 emails we examined, 3,013 (a whopping 75%) included at least one recipient in the Cc line. Of these, the editors determined that a Cc was only required in 210 – the other 2,803 emails were basically manual SPAM, created by business people with no business email etiquette.

2) Reply To All – Please, for the love of humanity and the sanity of the editors, learn how to use this simple, intuitive button installed in every email program in the world.

The Reply To All button was included in email programs for the primary purpose of allowing one of the recipients of an email sent to many people to respond to everyone else included in the address lines. Unfortunately, there are two instances when this is misused; one is annoying and one can be hilarious, though both are inadvertent.

The annoying misuse of Reply To All occurs when someone copied on an email string with multiple addressees fails to use Reply To All when they intend for everyone to see their response. This is frustrating because it often creates a new branch of the email string complete with its own conversations and conclusions.

The hilarious misuse of this occurs when someone copied on an email with multiple addressees intends to reply only to the sender, and inadvertently hits Reply To All. While we only had one example of this in the 4,000 emails the editors examined, it was still pretty funny.

A colleague (we’ll call him John) of one of the editors was copied on an email sent to most of the top managers at the editor’s company, including a VP that no one respects (we’ll call him Carl). John intended to simply reply to the sender with the following message, but inadvertently hit Reply To All:

You’d better send this by carrier pigeon to Carl, I doubt he knows how to open his own email. – John

Now, unless you’re Carl or John, you have to admit that that’s pretty funny. Carl didn’t find it amusing and John has since been “reassigned.”

1) Using a Non-Business Email Address – While we found only 62 instances of this (from 14 senders) in the 4,000 emails we examined, using a personal email address for business purposes is such a clear violation of proper business email etiquette that the editors almost felt compelled to name the 14 offenders in this article just to shame them into acquiring real email service for their companies.

If you would like both you and your company to appear completely bush league, please continue to send emails from addresses that end in @hotmail.com, @earthlink.net, @aol.com, @comcast.net, etc. And, although people once thought having an @gmail.com address was pretty cool, it’s not so cool for a business email account.

Additionally, if you’d like to look like a complete nincompoop, then continue to use “mustang,” “godawgs,” and “bucnut” before the @ in your emails. (All three of these were actually received by the editors.) The consensus of the editors is that these email handles will guarantee that you will receive no response to your “revolutionary new product” emails. 

While we’re on the subject of email addresses, the AskTheManager.com editors mandate that only the following naming conventions (and minor variations of these) should be used for business emails:

  • FirstName.LastName@BusinessName.com
  • FirstInitialLastName@BusinessName.com
  • LastName_FirstName@BusinessName.com

While many startups once thought it was cute to allow employees to use just their first names in their email addresses (pretty convenient when you only have five employees), these look a little silly today. So, bob@, george@, ralph@ and jeff@, please add your last names to your emails if you want to conduct serious business moving forward.

These are our twelve worst – what did we miss? Do you have an example of something in email that just drives you crazy? Please send us a note at themanager@askthemanager(dot)com, or leave a comment below.

(We think it’s important to note that there are resources to help you write better emails. Understanding how to use all of the features of Microsoft Outlook is a great first step. Outlook 2007 For Dummies is the best Microsoft Outlook training and reference guide available.)