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EMail good practice and etiquette

Describing good practice and email etiquette

Acknowledgements to University of Bristol Computing Service for permission to adapt their guidelines.

These guidelines describe accepted practices and courtesies when using electronic mail facilities.


  1. Managing your mail
  2. Confidentiality
  3. Message content and style
  4. Email Manners
  5. Large messages
  6. Viruses

Managing your mail

  • All members of staff, undergraduate and postgraduate students of the College are entitled to be registered to use electronic mail. You are allowed a certain amount of file space for incoming messages and for storing messages that you want to keep. It is much easier to deal with electronic mail, and to locate messages when you need to, if you follow the guidelines below. You will also avoid using file space unnecessarily.
  • You should read your mail frequently, at least several times a week, and daily if possible. Email communication (particularly among College staff) is the norm. Some of the messages will require a timely response from you to ensure to avoid delays and disruptions to the work of others. If you need more time to send a considered reply send a short message to that effect so that the sender is aware that you have seen the message.
  • Delete all messages that you no longer need.
  • Save messages that you want to keep in folders. You should go through these saved message folders from time to time and delete those you no longer want.
  • If you subscribe to any mailing lists, suspend or unsubscribe from them if you are unable to read your mail for more than a week (for example if you go on holiday).


  • Email is insecure (unless you are using encryption techniques). The privacy of an email message cannot be guaranteed. The message may be forwarded, printed or permanently stored by the recipient. Do not put anything in an email message that you would not want read by everybody. The laws of libel still apply.
  • If you receive a message intended for someone else, let the sender know.
  • Anything you receive may not have originated from where it says it does, as mail headers are easily forged. Therefore never disclose anything confidential, such as your password or credit card number, in an email message.

Message content and style

When using email you should be aware of the following:

  • Remember that the reader cannot see your face or hear a tone of voice so all expression must be conveyed by words and punctuation. Sarcasm is best avoided unless very clearly indicated. It is very easy to give offence unintentionally when communicating electronically. Always reread the message before sending it.
  • Always set a relevant subject header.
  • Don't write in all upper case because IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE SHOUTING.

Email Manners

  • If you read something that offends you, do not respond immediately. It is likely that the writer did not intend to be offensive. Allow some time to calm down, reread the item, and then respond, without being offensive yourself, only if you consider it worthy of response.
  • Be tolerant of poor spelling and grammar. English is not everyone's first language, and not everyone is educated to the same level.
  • If you include a signature (that is a standard set of lines about yourself at the end of each message), keep it as short as possible - 3 or 4 lines is usually enough - and don't include irrelevant information.
  • When replying to mail do not automatically include the whole of the previous message (and the message before that); include only the relevant parts. However, be careful not to change the wording of the original message.
  • It is not possible to guess email addresses. Verify that you are mailing the right address before sending any lengthy or personal messages.
  • Don't use "reply to all" unless you really want your message to be seen by everyone.

Large messages

  • Large messages can be very disruptive of the mail service and you should be careful about sending them.
  • Be aware of how big all messages you send are. Attaching large files can make your message so large that it consumes excessive resources, or in some cases cannot be delivered at all. As a rule of thumb, do not send messages larger than about 5Mb without first checking that the recipient can receive it.

Viruses and Phishing

  • You cannot get a virus from a plain text email message - but if the message has an attachment such as a word-processed document or a spreadsheet, this may contain a virus.
  • Do not forward any message about viruses to distribution lists. Most warnings of viruses are hoaxes and cause a lot of confusion. Examples of hoax viruses include "Pen Pals", "Good Times", "Trojan", "Join the Crew", "Red Alert", etc.
  • Do not follow web links if you are unsure of the source of the message. Familiarise yourself with the steps needed to recognise fraudulent email.