Rules to Better Email


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Sophie Vassarotti - Oxon Data Systems

Often emails are rambling and unorganized, forcing the reader to wade through blocks of totally useless text. When it comes to written communication, less is more. Having hundreds of emails in your Inbox is not uncommon. But it's very uncommon to find people who successfully manage their Inbox. Instead they let their Inbox become a great black hole with no business value. Email has a bad name in business primarily because people don't treat email correctly.

Email can be a vital tool to your company and your software development project, but it has to be managed. Email should be an accurate record of requests, conversations, and decisions. Emails are legal documents and should be treated with the same care as any other correspondence with clients or employees. Email is also in an extremely effective task tracking tool, and requests made by email should be treated with the same seriousness as Project Plans and other directives, for email can be seen as the protocol between the sender and receiver. Here are a series of email rules / etiquette that govern how we use our Inbox.


Do you agree with them all? Are we missing some? Email us your tips, thoughts or arguments.  Let us know what you think.

  1. Dones - Do you keep your inbox as a task list only?

    Most people don’t manage their inbox effectively. Emails should be treated as a list to do. As you complete a task you can just delete the email.

    Your inbox should only contain 'tasks', that are actionable items on your list of things to do. Everything that is in your 'Inbox' (including sub-folders) should only be to-do items.

    So do it now, delete all emails you have done. If you want to keep some for reference, move them to a new folder that is not in your inbox.

    In fact, you could go so far as to say you should not do anything unless you have an email telling you to do it (which is why we send ourselves emails). However, very simple tasks can be requested and replied 'done' via IM.

    ​Read Rules to Better IM.​

  2. Dones - Do you reply 'Done' and delete the original email?

    ​​​If someone asks you to perform a task by email, don't reply "OK, I will do that" or fail to reply at all. Instead, do the task and reply "Done" when the task has been completed, and then delete the email. This way the person requesting the task knows that it has been done, and doesn't waste time following you up. 

    Read "Definition of Done" for more information about the steps that need to be finished before replying to a done email.
    • If the task is already done, then reply "ALREADY DONE".
    • If you don't agree with the task or are unable to complete the task, reply "NOT DONE - the reason is XXX".
    • If there are multiple tasks that are DONE and NOT DONE then, reply with "PARTIAL DONE - See below." at the top of the email.

    Note:  Only say done when the work is done. If you have added the email to your backlog or todo list then instead of ‘Done’, say ‘Added to backlog – URL is xxx’.

    NOT Done Email
    Figure: Not Done Email

    Tip 1: Provide Detail in your "Done"

    In any reply, include relevant information, such as the URL and the code or text that has been updated, which allows the person requesting the work to check what was done and allows for offline reading.

    Use SnagIt with Balloons in screenshots.

    Bad Done Email
    Figure: Bad Example of a "Done" email.
    Good Done Email
    Figure: Good Example of a "Done" email as it has both the link and the changed text.

    If you find that you have already sent a "Done", and then the client asks you to undo the change, reply "Undone".

    Tip 2: Reply "Done" to multiple tasks

    It is important that you reply correctly to emails with multiple tasks.

    Hi Damian,

    As per our conversation:

    1. Change the logo on the SSW website to our new logo
    2. Take a photo of you standing on your head


    Figure: Original Email

    Hi Bob,

    I couldn’t find a camera so I haven’t done it all.


    Figure: Bad Example – It’s not clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t

    Hi Bob,

    >Change the logo on the SSW website to our new logo
    Done. See
    >Take a photo of you standing on your head
    Not Done. I couldn’t find a camera.


    Figure: Good Example – It’s very clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t

    Hi Bob,

    1. Done (see
    2. Not Done - We don't have a camera


    Figure: Good Example – It’s clear which tasks have been done and which haven’t

    Hi Bob,

    I've replied inline in red.



    Hi Damian,

    As per our conversation:

    1.  Change the logo on the SSW website to our new logo. Done - see
    2.  Take a photo of you standing on your head. Not Done - We don't have a camera 


    Figure: OK Example – It’s clear which tasks have been done, but we prefer not to reply inline

    Hi Bob,

    All Done
    See for the new logo.


    Figure: Good example – It’s still clear that all tasks have been done.

    Tip 3: Reply "Done" if you have a task that is > 4 hours

    Ideally, all tasks should be less than 4 hours. If you are given a task that is going to take days, then split it following the 4 hours rule

    Q: What if you can do 8 out of 9 items? Can I reply "Done"?

    A: Yes. If there are multiple items of work in an email and you can't do them all at once (in say 4 hours), reply "Done" to each item individually, and put yourself in the TO: so you can go back and do the remaining items. (See rule "To Myself")

    Done - 8 out of 9 tasks.

    Tip 4: Don't consolidate emails

    If you get multiple emails or tasks, don't consolidate. It is still best to reply to each email individually as you go, rather than compile the information into one email. This way the person requesting the work hasn't lost the email history and can understand what the work done relates to. It also means that testing and/or feedback can come in as soon as possible after the 1st completed task.

    Tip 5: Now Delete your email - Aim for 0 inbox

    There is no point keeping emails that just clutter your Inbox. You don't need to keep the original email because after you have replied "Done", there is a copy in "Sent Items". If you must keep an email, then move to your "Saved Items" folder. 

    Tip 6: Include URLs in screen captures

    Screen captures should always include the:
    * URL
    * Top left - so you can see what browser it is eg. Internet Explorer or FireFox

    Tip 7: When appropriate use text instead of an image

    To: Ross
    From: J Liu
    Subject: RE: BUG on Product.aspx

    DONE - There was a problem with the SQL. I added the line highlighted in​ Yellow:

    ProdName = CASE WHEN Download.ProdCategoryID <> '' THEN ProdCategory.CategoryName
    ELSE Download.ProdName END,
    Downloads = (SELECT Count(*) FROM ClientDiary
    WHERE ClientDiary.DownloadID = Download.DownloadID AND ClientDiary.CategoryID = 'DOWN'
    AND ClientDiary.DateCreated > '01/01/2000'
    AND ClientDiary.DateCreated < '01/01/2003')
    LEFT JOIN ProdCategory ON Download.ProdCategoryID = ProdCategory.CategoryID ​ ​ ORDER By Downloads DESC​
    Figure: Good example - Most of the time screens need images. However, this "DONE" uses text instead of an image. It is easier to search and easy to reply with a modification

    Tip 8: Handle an email once

    Follow a tip I got from my accounting days... "A sign of an efficient person is they handle a piece of paper once". When you get an email - don't just open it, have a quick look and close it with the idea that you will go back to it later. Read it, make a decision and do the action. Delete as many emails as you can on the first go.

    Tip 9: Use an Email tool for Outlook

    We use a program called Team Companion that you can use to reply "Done" to tasks in TFS. See more information on this at Dones - Do you reply 'Done' using Team Companion when using TFS?

    Tip 10: Consider alternatives in a team environment

    In a development team environment, it is better to move emails to bug tracking systems e.g.:

    1. TFS Work Items
    2. JIRA

    Tip 11: Include a video when appropriate

    Record a quick and dirty "Done Video"

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  3. Dones - Do you send yourself emails?

    ​​​​When a colleague or a Client asks you to do a task verbally, or you have discovered there’s a task you need to do but don’t have time to do it then and there, ​what method do you have for remembering to do it?

    The best solution is to send yourself an email CC'ing the person that asked you to do the task saying "As per our conversation..​." This way both of you know that the job needs to be done. Writing yourself a "Post-It Note" is not the best method. This is really important especially when you are working for clients so there is a record of the requests for work.

    Always add "To myself" in the email body - not on the subject - so that other people CC'd know what is going on.

    From: Jay Lin

    To: Jay Lin
    Cc: Adam Cogan, Lei Xu 
    Subject: Add bad example to Rules to Better UI -  Progress bar


    To myself,
    As per my conversation with Lei, the rule on progress bar is missing a bad example

    1. Add bad example to Rules to Better UI - progress bar -

    Figure: Good Example - Send yourself an email, and make it clear to everyone else
  4. Do you send "As Per Our Conversation" emails?

    ​Implement a policy of following up important telephone conversations with an email that begins with the words "As per our conversation". The intent is to document what was said and agreed upon.

    Watch the video below and see how a single email can make your job easier.


    As per our conversation, I am going to offer the client a Spec Review for $XXX 

    Figure: Good Example - using "As per our conversation" email 

    This is not just a 'cover my ass' email. This is for several reasons:

    • To make sure that you did not get the message wrong
    • To keep an audit trail of agreed decisions​
    • To keep people, who were not a party to the conversation, informed about the progress

    Use this approach internally and with clients. As a result, expect to see "as per our conversation" emails that:

    • Require a task to be completed
    • Explain the logic of the decision
    • Include URLs that were referred to
    • Can be referred back to in the future

    Sometimes you might not reach the client or Product owner via phone, and have to make a decision by yourself. In this case, it's still important to record everything in an email, starting with "I tried calling you but didn't get through": 

    I tried calling you but didn't get through. I am going to offer the client a Spec Review for $XXX 

    Figure: Good Example - for when you can't reach the person by phone 

    Note: This is most likely to happen after a conversation started by the client.
    If you are the one making the first contact, also follow: Do you prepare, then confirm conversations/decisions?

    Note: ​It's easy to fall into the trap of sounding rather robotic if you start every email with "As per our conversation", or "As per the message I just left on your mobile", etc. Here's a list of nice email openers that have the same effect:

    "As per our conversation" alternatives:

    1. ​Thanks for the chat
    2. Good talking to you
    3. As discussed...

    "As per the message I​ left on your mobile" alternatives:

    1. I couldn't catch you on the phone today.
    2. I just left you a quick voicemail.
    3. I called earlier but couldn't get through.
    4. Hey I​ just called earlier to say...​

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  5. Do you know the four standard email types?

    ​All business emails (that are useful) should be in one of the four following formats
    1. FYI - to spread information​​
      • Daily Scrum - to report on daily progress in a Sprint
      • Sprint Review/Retro emails
      • Sprint Planning emails, etc.​
    2. Tasks - Sending someone numbered tasks
      • To Myself - to send yourself a task, and CC interested parties
      • Tasks to one or more other people
    3. Test Please - to ask for testing and acceptance of a task​
    4. Done - replying to a task email, to show details of what has been done

    If your email doesn't fit into one of the above categories, it probably doesn't need to be sent. 
  6. Do you use > and indentation to keep the context?

    Electronic communication can easily cause misunderstandings. Help the reader understand your message better by:

    • Keeping the prior email in your reply
    • Quote the original email by using the ">" and indentation. Your new text should be kept to the left. When quoting text on web pages, other people or quoting past email history, indent it
    • Add numbers if the sender didn't
    • Use a different text color in your reply

    This way you won't forget any questions in the original email.

    Please change from X to Y
    The program flow logic worries me a bit 
    Done. Sorry, this wasn't a final decision - I just put it there for testing purposes

    Figure: Bad Example - there's too much information here

         > 1. Please change from X to Y

         > 2. The program flow logic worries me a bit ​
    Sorry, this wasn't a final decision - I just put it there for testing purposes 

    Figure: Good example - use indentation and ">" in an email. It points out the context of what is referred to 

    Related Rules

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  7. Do you ask for content changes using from X to Y?

    ​​When asking for changes to be made to any file like a web page, Word document, PowerPoint slide or code, always include the original version of the content ("X") together with the changes you require ("Y"). This means you have at hand a history of the page or file as it currently stands allowing for convenient future reference and also makes it very clear to the person doing the changes exactly what the new file is meant to look like.

    Make the changes even easier to see and understand by highlighting in red what you want to delete (only do this on the "From" section) and in yellow what you want to be added/updated (only do this on the "To" section).  All text we do not write ourselves should be indented, so this includes paragraphs we are copying and pasting (see Do you use indentation for readability?)

    Hi Eric,

    For the Code Auditor web page, please make the list read:

    - Scan all your projects for coding errors
    - Guarantee Industry best practices
    - Friendly licensing model, bloggers even pay 0$ for the full version!

    Figure: Bad example - original version of content has not been included in the email,

    Hi Eric,

    On the Code Auditor web page, please change

    Change from:
         - Scan all your projects for coding bugs and errors
         -  Enforce industry best practices
         - Friendly licensing model pay nothing for the full version!

        - Scan all your projects for coding errors
         -  Guarantee industry best practices
        - Friendly licensing model, bloggers even pay 0$ for the full version!

    Figure: Good Example - it has 'From' and 'To' with changes highlighted... so it is clear what needs to be changed

    Video: Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  8. Do you number tasks or questions you would like a reply to?

    It is good practice to be clear on what you want. One way you can make things clearer is to number tasks or questions.

    Hi PeterG,
    Make sure to use Linq to SQL for the bit where you execute Stored Procs. First, double check that executing Stored Procs is still an outstanding issue with EDMX.
    Don't forget to create a .txt file of the same name to the rule, so other developers know why you did this.

    Bad example - the different tasks may be skipped if the reader does not read carefully

    Hi PeterG,
    1. Double check that executing stored procedures  is still an outstanding issue with EDMX
    2. Add .txt file of the same name with a link to the rule, so other developers know why you did this
    3. In the .txt file, link to the UserVoice suggestion
    4. In the .txt file, link to the rule on Rules to better LINQ
    5. Make sure that actual rule links to the UserVoice (or Connect) suggestion too

    Good example - the different tasks are clear

    ​See also: Do you send tasks one email at a time?

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  9. Do you answer all questions, and pre-empt further ones?

    Often people will hit send on a reply and not realise that they have not answered one of the questions in the email. This creates more traffic that can be avoided. In the same vein, it's a good idea to supply any information the recipient may need, which will avoid another two emails.

  10. Do you use email signatures for external emails?

    ​Email signatures are a great way of adding some advertising and branding. You should always use a nice email signature for external emails.
    Internally, you shouldn't use any or just use a short one (just your​ name or initials)

    What about appointments?​

    Appointments going to people outside the organisation should be written and addressed the way you would an email. This includes using your email signature.

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren
  11. Do you CC everyone and reply to all when necessary?

    When emailing external parties, it is a good idea to CC the other colleagues within your organization that may have an interest in the email. Some of the benefits of CC'ing others are:

    • It can save time
    • Gives the email more credibility if you have CC'd others in your organization
    • Colleagues may correct your mistakes

    In addition, I often see people replying only to the sender of the email, ignoring the fact that there were other persons included in the original email. Obviously the original sender intended to keep everyone in the loop, so it would be polite to CC everyone included on the original communication. The converse is true also - don't cc people unnecessarily - you're just adding to the email problem!

    Figure: Good Example - Reply All so that everyone is kept in the loop

    If the original email was to an alias with many subscribers, in general you should not Reply All.
    Also, if the sender requests a 'little r' reply, then you should not 'Reply All'.​


    • If not all recipients need to be informed
    • The opinions of the rest of the recipients do not matter as they are unlikely to disagree

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  12. Do you follow up tasks effectively?

    Sometimes the person responsible for a task isn't able to complete it right away or anytime soon. In this case, a promise is made and the person either has to make a note in a paper diary, stick a post-it note to his screen, or regularly trawl through 'Sent Items' for all the off-hand promises made.

    Another scenario is when the task should be done or will expire ​after a period of time. For example: "Send Google Analytics data after a month" or "Remove course banner after the course is completed". 

    To ensure you follow up any task like these, there is a brilliant service called followupthen which can do all the administrative work for you.

    Simply BCC or email and it will send you an email when that time expires, reminding you to follow up with another​ email.

    Figure: Good Example - Use  to be reminded about this email in 1 week
  13. Do you know the two ways to follow up a task?

    There are two ways to set yourself a task to follow up in the future.

      Delayed Email
      • Write yourself an email in Outlook​
      • Before pressing send, click Options | Delay Delivery, and then specify when you want to be reminded
      • The email will sit in your outbox until the required time, when it will be sent to whoever you specified (you in this case)
      • When you receive it in your inbox, action the task
      Reminders (follow up flags)
      • Send yourself an email
      • Once it arrives in your inbox, flag it for follow up and set a reminder
      • When the reminder goes off, action the task
  14. Do you know when to do use 'Checked by xxx'?

    ​There are times you should have your email checked by someone else before sending. Examples are:
    • Where you are a little unsure
    • When you are new to a company and sending an email to a large distribution list
    • Sending a complicated email
    • Sending a sensitive email (where the content could be perceived as confrontational)
    • In application development, when you need a quick 'test please', an​d the person is immediately available. This​ provides you a chance to check and collaborate on the finished change before the 'done email' is sent

    Doing this will ensure:​

    • You avoid grammatical and spelling errors
    • The layout and tone of the email is professional
    • You haven’t forgotten anything important
    • The receiver knows who else agrees with the content

    Dear Adam,

    (Checked by Peter) 

    [email content]

    ​Regards, Phil

    Figure: Use 'Checked by xxx' when sending a complicated email to a group of people
  15. Do you know who to put in the TO field?

    Make sure that anyone tasked in emails is explicitly added to the to line. This helps them identify emails where they have tasks.
     Figure: Bad example, Mark can’t search for tasks that have been assigned to him Figure: Good example, Mark can filter his emails based on whether his name is on the TO field.
  16. Do you seek clarification via the telephone first?

    We've all received a cryptic email at some point. Don't just reply saying "I don't understand". Chances are if the sender of the task couldn't explain the task well enough the first time then it's likely conversation is needed to clarify the issue. Pick up the phone or Skype the person who sent the email.
    Figure: If an email isn't clear, a phone call generally sorts problems out quickly

    Having clarified the issue by phone, reply but update the original email with the new details arising from the conversation (Remember to start with an "As per our conversation" line).

    However, sometimes you cannot immediately reach the task owner. In this case, you need to keep trying to contact the person for 24 hours. If you are still not able to contact the person, you need to reply to the email and put the following in red in the first line:

    Hi John

    (As per our conversation, I needed a bit more information to complete this task - next time, it would be great if you could include additional information like the below so I could complete it without bothering you)
    FYI - This task has been put onto the backlog and should be looked at in the next sprint.

    To Myself

    [Fill in the information you just got from the conversation]

    Figure: Good Example - Send this email and now move on to other tasks and leave this task to next release.
  17. Dones - Do you use email for tasks only - not communication?

    Email is a very powerful business tool. The main problem, however, is that for most people it is out of control - emails build up until they are impossible to manage. To help minimize mailbox clutter, try these tips: ​

    Using your mailbox as a task list also saves you from having to use inefficient paper-based cards to track your tasks.

    Bad emailFigure: Bad Example - A bad email is one that gives no clear action items Good email Figure: Good Example - A good email has a clear next step action point 

    It is better that email is not used as communication, but for many instances, if the person is unavailable, it is better to send the email, than not. If you can’t do an ‘as per our conversation’ then add some text at the top of the email. e.g.

    "As per the message I left on your phone…" and detail the questions you would like answered.

    Make sure to number your tasks, if there is more than one, as per "Do you number small tasks related to 1 topic?"

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  18. Dones - Do your 'Dones' include a URL?

    ​If you are using a task tracking system like TFS or Jira, always include the relevant URL. Also valid for emails. This way people can check the work that was done.


    Figure: Bad Example   Done - Good example Done - /_workitems#12075  ​ Figure: Good Example (sorry TFS URLs are a little uglier)

    Video:  Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  19. Dones - Do you reply 'Done' using Team Companion when using TFS?

    Before you do the task – say if the task requires a code change and you are using TFS, make sure it goes in as a work item. Follow the rule to happy clients - triage rule.

  20. Dones - Do you include useful details in your 'Done' email?

    ​Including images is a good idea, in addition when appropriate include code snippets,  and ideally have the code that changed highlighted in yellow

    This has several benefits:

    • Improved visibility and transparency - The client can see the work actually being done
    • Reduced cost of fixing a bug - the cost of a bug goes up based of the length of time taken for the client to ask for a change. If you tell a developer to change something he did today, it is many times cheaper for him to fix, than if he got the same request 2 months later (when he has forgotten was it was about) 
    • The client can raise questions based on what he sees in the code
    • Finally, in the very unlikely case that the code repository and backup goes corrupt, your emails are a backup!

    Let's look at some examples and tips:

    Figure: Bad example - the client cannot see any detail of what was done
    Figure: Good example - the client can see the image + the code changes highlighted in yellow

    Tip #1: Include the URL
    If you are using TFS, you can also include a URL to the work item in TSWA

    Tip #2: Include a .diff file
    You can include the code as an attached text file.  

    Figure: Good example - this is a Text file with a .diff extension that includes the code change from TFS. If opened using NotePad2, the client can view the code changes with green and red color (added and deleted code).

    Tip 3#: Do you have force a link between the code and the requirement?

    For those developers lucky enough to be using Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS 2005, 2008 or 2010) you can associate your code changes with a work item. This means that future developers can work out not just *what* changed, but *why*.
    For those using TFS, enable the Checkin policy and force all developers to associate every check-in with a work item.

    Figure: Make developers associate all check-ins to a work items
    Figure: Enabling the Checkin Policy (via Project | Team Project Settings | Source Control | Add)

  21. Dones - Do you include relevant info from attachments in the body of the email?

    When someone sends you a .doc file or images that are attached when you reply 'done' they (and others CCed) won't be able to see the appropriate history. If it is a word .doc or an image; open it and copy and paste the text/image into the footer. Don't leave it as an attachment. 

    Warning: iPhones strip inline images. If someone has replied to a beautifully crafted email (with inline images) with their iPhone, it will now be a clipped plain text email.

    So in such a case, you will want to skip that email and go back to the last HTML email and past in the extra response. For clarity add something like:

    "(fixed history to put back images - caused by Adam's iPhone)"​

    Related ​Rule​​​​

  22. Dones - Do you know how to do a perfect 'Done' (replying to a bug)?

    To reply to a bug effectively and efficiently in your emails, you need to include:
    • Current Status - the bug is fixed (screenshot of working application) or not fixed (ask for more detailed information from the client)
    • Investigation - the reason for the bug, or if you don't know, what you investigated, e.g. checked Windows event logs and found nothing helpful
    • Solution - how you fixed the bug (code snippet if necessary)

      Reply to a bug
    Figure: Good Example - Reply to a bug showing all steps
  23. Dones - Do you or show your quality control with "Checked by xxx"?

    ​​When you get your task done, you should carefully check each item in the email task and make sure it's qualified. For some tasks, you need someone to check it again for you before you send the "Done​" email.  

    Simply ask for that person to come over and check it on your computer or IM him/her if the person is not close by (e.g. in a different room). This way you are guaranteed instant feedback and you won't clog up someone else's inbox with unnecessary emails. 

    Reply to the "Done" email like below and CC the person who checked the email for you. In this way, you show it was double checked.

    Figure: Reply Email with "Checked by XXX"​ 

    When you action a task for adding web content (such as a rule or suggestion), firstly paste the content into a new Word file and run the "Grammar & Spelling Check" to check if there are any errors. After the "Grammar & Spelling Check", you can add it to your website. After that, run Link Auditor in order to keep 0 bad links on that page.

     Figure: Reply to the email with grammar & spelling check and CA check results

  24. Do you add context/reasoning to your emails?

    When sending an email it is very important to give context and reasoning. This way anyone can understand what was done at any time in the future. Never assume that the other person will get it anyway, and always try to give details and make yourself as clear as possible. 
    Bad - no context or reasoning
    Figure: Bad Example - There is no context or reasoning
    Good - there is context and reasoning
    Figure: Good Example - There is both context and reasoning
    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren
  25. Do you avoid replying to all when you are only Bcc'ed?

    If you receive email via BCC, other recipients are not aware that you were sent a copy so it's actually a VERY BAD idea to Reply All in this case. It's ok to reply to the message you were BCCed on, but it's not ok to send your reply to the people on TO or CC list. Only the sender should receive replies from BCCed people.
    ​This ​extends even further to the person using BCC in the 1st place. Generally when using BCC, you should always pause to make sure you are doing the right thing. 
    9 times out of 10, you will find that your motivation for using BCC is something less than fully candid... and it's almost always better to use CC or forward instead.​
  26. Do you group your emails by Conversation and Date?

    You may be involved in different tasks simultaneously every day.  The best way to organize your tasks and follow each task individually is grouping your emails by conversation.  By default, Outlook groups the emails by Date.
    Figure: Bad example. Email messages are grouped by Date
    Figure:  Good example.  Email messages are grouped by Conversation

    Follow these steps to group by conversation:

    1. Open Outlook and select the Mail View.
    2. Right click any column and choose the "Customize Current View..." option.
    3. Select the "Group by..." option as displayed in the image.
      Figure:  Steps to group by conversation field
    4. Select the "Conversation" field from the list.  (Leave empty the remaining groups)
    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren
  27. Do you include the name of the person you address on the first line?

    ​​If you include more than one person in your email, include the name of the person/s you are addressing on the first line. Generally don't put more than one name in the "To" box, so that people won't have to be unsure to whom the email is addressed. If you have to address multiple people in an email (including yourself - i.e. notes to self), include each person's name as a heading as shown below. This helps them quickly locate the part of the email that applies to them.

    Include each addressee's name as a heading in the email body Figure: Good Example - When addressing multiple people, include each addressee's name as a separate heading

    TIP: Use big headings by typing Control+Alt+3.

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  28. Do you keep the history of an email?

    Often we receive a reply to an email and it has one word - "Yes."

    If the sender can't remember what was asked and the respondent has deleted the history, it's hard to tell what's going on. It's not possible to check whether all questions were answered, or what URL was in the original email. Also, we can't CC someone else on the new reply because the email is missing half the information. 

    So the only way is to go back into 'sent items', find what was asked for and copy and paste it into my reply, which can be very frustrating.

    Crazy. Just don't delete the history! Geezzzzeeeee, surely we aren't that hard up for disk space ;)​

    Related Rule

  29. Do you know how to add or remove someone from the conversation?

    If you think someone should be involved in a conversation but they're not on the recipient list, all you need to do is "Reply All", put the new recipient in the 'CC' field and include one line at the top to inform people for clarity
     e.g. (Adding Drew)

    Be aware that it is easy to over CC people. Try not to CC people without thinking as every person added to a thread costs $$$. So when you add someone, it is a good idea to state the reason why they are being added, so it will justify the cost of their time.
     e.​g. (Adding Drew to the loop as during the daily scrum today he mentioned he has worked on similar issues and might have some input)

    Adding A Person To CC Good Example
    Figure: Good Example - Adding someone to an email thread

    If you need to remove someone from the loop, for example to have an internal conversation about an email to a client, put (Removing xxx from the loop) at the top of the email.

    Add Recipient
    Figure: Good Example – Removing someone from an email thread so you can talk about the them in private

    You can delete people from an email thread, but what often happens is:

    • The people being dropped won’t know and won’t be able to say "I don't want to be dropped from this thread"
    • The people who added them in the 1st place don't know that they included unnecessary people
    • The others on the thread might not notice the change in email addresses

    To fix all these issues, instead of deleting people from the email, you:

    • Move them to the BCC
    • On the top line of the body say "(moving George and Bob to BCC)"
    Add Recipient
    Figure: Good Example – Moving someone to BCC

    VIDEO Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren

  30. Do you know how to follow up an unanswered email?

    Sometimes the person you send your email to may not reply immediately because they're busy or just may have forgotten about it.  If you need an answer, use a PING by doing the following:
    1. Reply to ALL
    2. Put (PING) in 1st line of the Body
    3. Plus any other instructions - such as "Hurry Up!" or "following-up, and looking forward to your reply" or "Need an answer please"​
    Hurry Up
    Figure: Good Example - (PING) written at the top of the email.

    Of course you might use slightly friendlier language following up a client or a third party compared with following up a colleague!​ If it's really important and you need an answer you might like to consider using the phone instead of email​.

  31. Do you know that less is more?

    Often emails are rambling and unorganized, forcing the reader to wade through blocks of totally useless text. When it comes to written communication, less is more. Be concise and to the point, listing only what is relevant. People tend to ignore reading larger emails if they are on the run and leave it until a later time when they are not as busy.

    "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."
    Mark Twain

  32. Do you know what to do when you get an email that you don’t understand?

    Sometimes a task will not be clear, or you won't have sufficient context to understand what is required.

    A bad approach is to simply delete the email or to reply with “?” and then delete it.

    ​What you should do is call the sender and ask for specifics, then reply to the email with an as per our conversation, documenting your new understanding of the task.

    If you can't get hold of the person, email them back asking specifics of what you don't understand.

  33. Do you know when you should change a subject?

    Some email threads go on forever... sometimes the topic subtly changes... so when should you change the subject? The answer is "cautiously". The reason is email threading.

    So when do you change it?

    • When the original email theme has been superceded by new content, you should change the email subject to a more relevant description of the content of the thread.
      E.g. from "Field of Study"
      to "Next Years Conference WAS: Field of Study"
    • Also if the original subject was generic e.g. "Reminder" or "Invoice" (especially when automatically generated) then upon reply change the subject by adding the client or project name to the email subject.
      E.g. from "Invoice"
      to "IBM WAS: Invoice"

    Remember, never forget the importance of a good email subject in improving communications.

    Figure: Keep your email subject description up-to-date. Sarah Palin isn’t even a governor anymore
  34. Do you link similar threads with similar subjects?

    Often there are two email threads that have separate tasks in them, but that both relate to a very similar topic. In this case, it can be useful to give them the same subject, with a number afterwards to differentiate them.


    SSW Rules - Add 'please update this rule' button #1

    SSW Rules - Add 'please update this rule' button #2

    Read Do you realize the importance of a good email Subject? for more on good email subjects.​

  35. Do you know when, and when NOT, to use email?

    As all these rules indicate, email can either be a blessing or a curse. One of the most deadly of all the potential curses of email is when people choose to use email when it is just not the right tool for that particular task. Absolutely avoid email in the following situations:
    Meta Group Phone Over Email Meta Group Email Over Phone
    Figures: a Icon PDF Meta Group survey found that 81% of respondents preferred the phone above email to build relationships, but 80% preferred email generally
    1. When you want to discuss an issue and make a decision
    2. When you are dealing with a 'delicate' problem

    Making a Decision

    If you want to make a decision, asking for opinions via email is the best way to ensure one isn't made. Email discussions get off topic, lose track and generally go nowhere, with every email ending with "Yes, but what about..." or "Just my 2c". This leads to a lot of time-wasting.

    You should either pick up the phone or have a meeting to discuss the issue, make a decision then and there, and then confirm the decision via email. The first line in your follow up email should be "As per our conversation..." This records that a conversation was held.

    The issue becomes even more important internally, when you email someone in the next office and ask them a question. This is a great way of creating unnecessary emails. Instead, stand up, walk to their desk and ask them the question. Otherwise, have a folder called "AskDavid" or similar, file all your emails that you need to ask him about in there, and when he next comes to visit you, go through them and get an answer.

    Dealing with Delicate Situations

    Similarly, never bring up a tricky topic with someone by email. It's very easy to misunderstand or misrepresent via email. We always pick up the phone and speak to the person first when discussing important, sensitive, complex issues, or issues where some serious convincing is required. This is the standard we follow:

    • Draft the email covering the issues we want to confirm
    • Call the person covering every issue outlined in the draft
    • Adjust the email according to the decisions made together, adding "As per our conversation..."
    • Send the email
    This way you can review issues together, and, importantly, decisions are confirmed in writing.

    Don't shoot people!
    Figure: Are you in the right frame of mind?

  36. Do you prepare, then confirm conversations/decisions?

    Ideally all phone conversations and meetings should be confirmed afterwards so you have a record of the decisions and action points. Meetings and phone calls should have adequate preparation so they are efficiently run. The reality is, after the meeting or phone call, we get busy on the next call. So this is the workflow that should happen:
    1. Prior to speaking to a client, speak to relevant people to help you formulate your recommendations e.g. speak to a developer about the proposal
    2. Draft an email with bullet points for each issue (don't send)
    3. Call up the client (or have a meeting)
    4. Modify during conversation
    5. Send the email to the client (cc relevant people e.g. the developer) saying "As per our conversation..."
  37. Do you realize the importance of a good email Subject?

    ​​Just as we should not 'judge a book by its cover' - we will not judge an email by its subject. But, we do! Because users get so many emails, getting your clients and suppliers to take notice of yours in their inbox can be quite a struggle.
    Outlook Choose an interesting subjectFigure: Good Example - I'm definitely going to read this email

    Use the email Subject to grab your recipient's attention. Choosing the right subject can give an email a sense of urgency or importance that choosing the wrong subject won't!

    The best way of doing this is to ensure that your subject includes either an ACTION POINT (e.g. 6.30 TONIGHT! See you at The Oaks Hotel...) or a RESULT of a task you were asked to do (e.g. Here's the 5 mins. of FEEDBACK you requested from our meeting with Charles Merton). You'll note from this that including the date and time in the subject gives immediacy to the email.

    If there's anything to be learned from spammers, they know how to get your attention. Spammers use very tabloid based, or headline grabbing subjects, to try and coerce you to open that email. But don't make your email subjects tabloid-tacky, instead follow a good broadsheet paper's style of attention-grabbing lines.

    Never leave the subject blank! It's like writing a book and failing to give it a name!

    Bad Subject Examples
    Good Subject Examples
    DatabaseNorthwind - Future - Meeting to get your software solution rolling, next Monday 2PM
    DinnerDinner Tonight, 6.30PM at The Oaks
    ?? BUG - SSW SQL Auditor - Button not working
    User GroupSSW User Group - This month needs a speaker - Call Tom Howe pronto!
    FeedbackSSW SQL Deploy - User interface feedback
    Broken FormNorthwind - CPF - Fix combo box on Broken Form
    Test Please

    (see test please rule)
    Test Please - Product Name v1.11
    RE: Test Please - Product Name v1.11

    (don't just reply)
    TODO - ​Product Name v1.11 - "Save" button not working

    Figure: Always use a descriptive email subject to make it easier to find later

    Of course, we also use a structured approach for emails - especially when sending them internally.

    We use the following format for the subject internally and encourage clients and external contacts to use this format as well.

    [Client Name/Product Name] - [Project Name] – [Object Name/Description]
    Eg.: WorleyParsons – IOP – Customer.aspx - Add email address validation

    The advantage of this is that when you sort by the subject in Outlook, you get all of the emails grouped together, and it is easy to recognize the client/product, because the subject contains the relevant information.

    Additionally, you should be able to determine which emails are the most important. Using a meaningful subject with keywords makes it easy to identify and categorize emails without actually opening them (and is also makes it easy to find them in "Sent Items"). When emails are really important write IMPORTANT in the subject. Other emails considered important or urgent should have the following in the subject field:

    • BUG
    • URGENT

    Other words to be used are:

    • TO-DO - for tasks pending
    • FYI - information you want to keep around for a while, for yourself or for others (never for a task)
    • FUTURE - ideas for the future
    • IGNORE - for the rare occasion when something is requested and you really don't want to do it yet
    • Product name - Registered User Support
    • Product name - Pre-Sales Support
    • Project name
    • Client Name


    For external emails, it is acceptable to change the email subject in certain circumstances.

    For internal emails, the subject line should generally not be changed as it will break the threading of emails

    Related Links

  38. Do you respond to each email individually?

    (AKA - don't respond to a series of emails in one email) If you receive separate emails, respond to each email individually. Don't answer a few emails in one email.

    • Each email is a little job (eating the elephant one bit at a time)
    • You get a steady flow back as bits are achieved (can get a feel or monitor employees efficiency)
    • You can move to 'todo' list folders
    • You get a email history for that one topic
  39. Do you send tasks one email at a time?

    Do you sometimes find that people don't attend to all the items you have listed in your long and carefully drafted email?

    Make it easier for everyone to track the status of tasks by sending tasks one email at a time, and make the task it requests very clear. When a person has completed a task they just have to reply "Done" to that email, delete the email from their Inbox and then move on to the next task.

    This rule can be by-passed when dealing with small tasks relating to the same topic. In cases where this is needed, you should number each task that you wish to be completed, as per "Do you number small tasks related to 1 topic". however, the person completing the task should still reply a single "Done" to the whole email once they have completed all of the small tasks.

    Also send separate emails per topic - that way there can be one email per topic. The advantages are that you get an email history on a specific topic and it is easier to include someone else.

    BAD - One email for separate tasks. Figure: Bad Example - One email for multiple separate tasks. GOOD - Separate emails for separate tasks. Figure: Good Example - Separate emails for separate tasks. GOOD - Exception to the rule. Figure: Good Example - A few related tasks in one email.

    Note: When replying to these emails, reply to each email individually. Don't consolidate them all into one as it leaves unfinished email threads. 

    See Also: Do you number tasks or questions you would like a reply to?

  40. How do you reply to free support requests which would need more than 20 minutes work?

    You should reply like this:
    Dear Peter
    If it was a quick 5 mins I would do it straight away. However I need to do a little investigation - maybe a couple of hours.
    If that is OK then here is a link to purchase 2 hours and I will spend that time on this and let you know how I go.
    Figure: Good Example - Reply like this if the free support request needs more than 20 minutes
  41. When asked to change content, do you reply with the content before and after the change?

    Your boss asks you to change a page on your website. You discuss it with your team and come up with the changes. Wouldn't it be nice if your boss could see exactly what was changed? Always keep a copy of what the page (or document) looked like before you make the change, and reply to the original email with the before and after.

    Note: SharePoint has version histories, giving you the ability to compare to previous versions out of the box.

  42. Do you use a different color when replying an email?

    Replying inline can mess up the history of the email thread. What you should do is to copy and paste the entire email in your reply and comment on each issue at a time, keeping the history intact.

    It's important to write your comments in a different color. You might want to mention what color your comments are in (sometimes there is more than one person making in-line comments).  Make sure what you type should always be aligned left, not indented. Remember, if you write emails with one issue at a time you won't need to do this too often.

    -----Original Message-----

    From: Daniel Hyles
    Sent: Tuesday, 28 May 2002 7:31 AM
    To: Adam Cogan
    Subject: FW: Morning Goals

    I have replied inline 

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Adam Cogan
    Sent: Monday, 27 May 2002 8:00 AM
    To: Daniel Hyles 
    Subject: FW: Morning Goals

    - TimePro Online pages
    - Double check backups (get backup today on both drives, I configured the other drive last night)
    - Make sure Exchange is backing itself up... Check Google on why not.
    Not Done
    - Access reporter
    Not Done

    Figure: Bad Example - Replying inline and using the same color can mess up the history + no indentation 

    From: Daniel Hyles
    Sent: Tuesday, 28 May 2002 7:31 AM
    To: Adam Cogan
    Subject: FW: Morning Goals

    My answers in blue

         > 1. TimePro Online pages

         > 2. Double check backups (get backup today on both drives, I configured the other drive last night)

         > 3. Make sure Exchange is backing itself up... Check Google on why not.

    Not Done

        > 4. Access reporter
    Not Done

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Adam Cogan
    Sent: Monday, 27 May 2002 8:00 AM
    To: Daniel Hyles 
    Subject: FW: Morning Goals

    - TimePro Online pages
    - Double check backups (get backup today on both drives, I configured the other drive last night)
    - Make sure Exchange is backing itself up... Check Google on why not.
    - Access reporter

    Figure: Good Example - Replying in a different color + keeping history intact + using indentation​

    See Top 10 Rules to Better Email video for more details on how to reply to emails.

  43. Do you use indentation for readability?

    ​Another thing that helps readability in emails is indentation.
    I’m on site with a client setting up their TFS Server. We have the TFS 2010 and WSS on the app tier and SQL 2008 Standard on a separate box. We can see Analysis Services running in Services but the configuration manager returns Error “TF 255040: You must exit Team Foundation Admin console and install SQL Server Reporting Services or at a minimum SQL Client Connectivity Tools…” SQL Reporting Services appears happy in the Advanced Configuration Wizard. Anyone have suggestions?

    Figure: Bad Example - hard to read

    I’m on site with a client setting up their TFS Server. We have the TFS 2010 and WSS on the app tier and SQL 2008 Standard on a separate box. We can see Analysis Services running in Services but the configuration manager returns Error 

        "TF 255040: You must exit Team Foundation Admin console and install SQL Server Reporting Services or at a     minimum SQL Client Connectivity Tools…”

    SQL Reporting Services appears happy in the Advanced Configuration Wizard. Anyone have suggestions?

    Figure: Good example – this reads better

    Your new text should be kept to the left. When quoting text on web pages, other people or quoting past email history, indent it.

    Note: This is almost as important as the Do you use balloons instead of a 'Wall of Text'? rule.

    Related Rule ​

    VIDEO - Top 10+ Rules to Better Email Communication with Ulysses Maclaren
  44. Appointments - Do you send Outlook Calendar appointments when appropriate?

    ​​​If you wish to organize a meeting that involves some of your colleagues and a client, instead of sending an email, send an appointment. Sending appointments is convenient because all the user has to do is click 'accept' and it is in their calendar.
    Outlook Appointment
    Figure: Use Outlook appointments to easily synchronise your calendar with your client's

    This way Outlook will remind your colleagues about the appointment and you can update them if any changes are made.

    If the appointment is for 3 days or less, send a separate appointment for each day. This is because multiple-day appointments appear at the top in your Outlook Calendar, so you risk missing the appointment (see below).

    Bad Multiple Day Appointment
    Figure: Bad Example - Multiple-day appointments appear hidden at the top of your Outlook calendar, so you might miss it, thinking that the time is free
    Good Single Day Appointments
    Figure: Good Example - Send a separate appointment for each day so you can clearly see it in your Outlook calendar

    You should always have calendar on your phone, so we can quickly add a client booking into the calendar, then add a note what to do with CRM (e.g. Uly please set regarding flag)​.

  45. Appointments - Do you know how to add an appointment in someone else's calendar?

    ​​When sending an appointment from someone else's calendar, you should always include that person as an attendee so that they also receive the same appointment email that their guests do. It shows them that the invitation has been sent, and also allows them to check for any mistakes or additional information that needs to be added.
  46. Appointments - Do you explain why you've deleted or modified an appointment?

    Whenever you have to modify the time, attendees or subject of an appointment, always send the updated one with comments at the top to explain why you want make these changes.

    This will help to solidify the changes and alleviate confusion.

       Figure: The note in brackets explains the change that has been made
  47. Appointments - Do you make sure your appointment has a clear location address?

    ​​​​Make sure appointments have address details unless it's obvious for all attendees.

    Bad location
    Figure: Bad Example - Appointment field should have addresses in location when appropriate
    map example.png
    Figure: Good example - Address is clearly identified in the location field, meaning it can be mapped using applications on smartphones

    It's important to always add the address information in appointments when a third party is included. i.e.:

    • A client meeting at your location
    • A meeting at the client location

    The exception is for internal meeting appointments:​

    I would invite Zune to work Saturday @ SSW (but not include the address)

  48. Appointments - Do you know how to Reply All to an Appointment?

    ​​​​Often your conv​ersation flow with someone will go from a phone call, to emails, to an appointment, and then back to emails.

    It's nice to be able to look back and see the whole history in 1 thread, so you will need to be able to Reply All to an appointment to continue the email conversation after the meeting.

    Outlook makes this easy:

    Calendar window
    Figure: Open the appointment in your Calendar (You should already have Invited all the required people to attend)

    Figure: Click on "Contact Attendees" | "Reply to All with Email" if you created the appointment, or "Respond" | "Reply All" if you were invited
    Type the messages
    Figure: Send a friendly reminder!

    Reasons you might want to Reply All to an Appointment include:

    1. Continuing the conversation after a meeting
    2. Reminding someone about an upcoming meeting (especially if you know they have unwieldy calendars)​
    3. Getting more information before a meeting

  49. Appointments - Do you show all the necessary information in the subject?

    ​When sending an appointment, it's a good idea to choose your subject intelligently so that people can see all the information they need to see in the Subject of the Appointment.

    ​​For example if the appointment is a meeting request you should include the names of the persons attending that appointment. Another example is flight bookings or hotel bookings. Including the flight number and/or Hotel name in the Appointment Subject so that you can see the information without having to open the item. Think about what the recipient sees in their calendar and try to make it as clear as possible.​

    Bad Appointment Subject Figure: Bad Example - appointment subject with very little informationGood Appointment Subject Figure: Good Example - Appointment subject with all of the relevant information shown

    CRM u​sers making bookings should keep their naming standards consist​ent.

  50. Appointments – Do you use Propose New Time?

    When you would like to propose a new time for an appointment that someone has sent to you, use the Propose New Time button in Outlook instead of simply declining the message. By using the Propose New Time option, the requestor can easily accept your proposed time, rather than having to edit the previous appointment.

    Figure: Bad Example: The person who sent the appointment has to interpret your message, then go back in and edit the appointment

    Instead of simply declining the message and typing your proposed time in the message body, propose a new time as follows:

    Figure: Good Example: The new time is proposed, and the person who sent the original appointment can easily accept your proposal, or view all proposals from multiple recipients
  51. Are you aware of the importance of a client's email attachment?

    Sometimes clients will add attachment files into emails. Those files could be documents or images, which may contain details or solutions of the issue, or some helpful information.
    To keep the history, it is very important to embed the attachment files into the email since it's easy to lose those files when responding.
    ​​The image is in attachment.

    Figure: Bad Example - The image is in attachment.
    The image is included in the context
    Figure: Good Example - The image is included in the context.
    PS: Clients make attachments because they are using OWA and you can't paste an image in - see suggestion for OWA


  52. Do you always be careful with your spelling, grammar and punctuation?

    Improper spelling, grammar, and punctuation gives a bad impression of your company and can result in your message not being conveyed correctly. Emails with no full stops or commas are difficult to read and can sometimes even change the meaning of the text. And, if your program has a spelling checking option, why not use it?

    Web Content

    When on a web page, install Grammarly Addon for Chrome so you can automatically check web content. For example, while editing in a CMS.

    Figure: A typo caught by Grammarly plugin


    When on Word, press F7 (or on the ribbon go to Review > Spelling & Grammar) to check your .docx text.

    Use Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar checker to confirm your content is correct
    Figure: Click on "Spelling & Grammar" button to check your web content


    When on PowerPoint , press F7 (or on the ribbon go to Review | Spelling & Grammar) to check your .pptx text.

    Figure: Click on "Spelling" button to check your web content

    You should also keep "Check grammar with spelling" checked in your PowerPoint Options | Proofing:

    Figure: Make sure "Check grammar with spelling" is enabled

    Web Content

    Any other text can be checked manually. Go to Grammarly, create a New Document and Paste your content to check your text.

    Figure: A typo caught by Grammarly

    Related rule

  53. Do you always keep your sent items?

    You should never ever delete your sent items. This will in most cases be the only record you have of the emails you have sent to customers and clients. If you ever need to find some correspondence (and believe me you will) then you will be very thankful you got into this habit!
  54. Do you always remember your attachment?

    When you refer to an attachment in your email, don't forget to include the attachment. I always attach the files first before I write my message.

    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule.
    Contact or attached Figure: SSW LookOut! for Outlook automatically warns you if you have forgotten to include your attachments.
  55. Do you avoid attaching emails to emails?

    Sometimes, in order to add someone in to the loop on something, you might write an email and attach another email as reference material.
    Generally this is not a good idea and you are better off replying to the original email instead so you can keep it in the history of ongoing threads.
    The exception is when you are already in a conversation thread with important history and you want to add more reference material to the email, although even then it's a good idea to also quote the particular line of interest as well.
  56. Do you avoid emailing sensitive information?

    Never email sensitive information such as Credit Card details, PINs or passwords. Not only does it present serious security problems, it looks like you don't care two-hoots about other people's information.
  57. Do you avoid huge images or attachments in your email?

    When your attachment is too big, you should think twice.​

    1. Avoid large attachments. So if you are sending an email that is >1MB you need to take one second to think:
      • Could a URL be better than this attachment? (see example on the right)
      • Could I send this as a UNC to an internal share?
      • Could I .zip this?
      • Could I put this picture on Flickr or Picasa?
        Dear Mike,

        Thank you for spending time with us to come to a better understanding of your business requirements. Please review the new version of the specification at

        PS: The .docx was 4MB so I didn't attach a copy.

        Adam Cogan
      PS: An added advantage is that the document stays alive. If the URL has been updated and a user takes a week to get around to this email, they will view the latest version.
    2. If you have to attach the document, always use WinZip - it is common courtesy - I'll assume you already know that.
    3. Never use Rich Text inside Outlook. As a software developer, most large messages I receive are screen captures. By all means use screen captures - pictures do tell a thousand words - but don't include unnecessarily huge images or attachments in your email. Generally the only time you will have serious size problems is if you are using Rich Text instead of HTML inside Outlook.
    4. If you are sending screenshots then just send the region of the screen you need. Use a screen capture utility like Fullshot so you can use the region tool and get only the relevant part of the image you need. PS: Don't send screenshots as .bmps use .jpgs .gif or .png
    5. If you are sending pictures (every year digital cameras are making our photos bigger and bigger) you may need to resize them down. You can either use Photoshop or for something quicker try Office Document Imaging.
      Compress Pictures Figure: "Compress Pictures" options dialog
    6. SharePoint was built with sharing files in mind and is a great way to collaborate.
      If you are using SharePoint to send a file you simply need to open the context menu, click "send to" and "email a link" as shown:
      SharePoint Context menu Figure: If using SharePoint 2010 you should use this context menu

    When should you break these size rules?

    Basically, you should be practical:

    1. Keep history
    2. Paste images into the email - not into a Word document and attach (so it stays with the customers' reply)
    3. When you paste a URL, also paste the section of the web page you are referring to (allows for offline reading)
    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule. Contact or Mail Size Figure: SSW LookOut! for Outlook warns you if your mail size is large
  58. Do you avoid Outlook Rules?

    Some people make extensive use of the rules wizard so that as email messages arrive they already appear in the appropriately created folder. I basically think this doesn't work as you never look at these emails.
    Read more about Do you avoid Outlook Rules?
  59. Do you avoid sending unnecessary emails?

    ​Every email you process takes time. Sifting through unnecessary emails becomes really frustrating. Don't clog up someone else's Inbox with unnecessary emails.

    ​A good rule of thumb for whether an email is unnecessary is if your email comprises of less than 5 words (e.g. "OK" or "See you then") it's likely it doesn't need to be sent.

    Merely saying "thanks" is often not sufficient to warrant the email but an exception to this rule is when positive reinforcement should be used when someone has done a specific ​behaviour that you like and want to encourage. E.g.

    "Thanks for being proactive and pointing out that improvement."

  60. Do you avoid sending your emails immediately?

    How often have you clicked "Send" and then wished you hadn't? It's a common problem. It can be easily solved by un-checking the "Send Immediately When Connected" option in Tools/ Options/ Mail Setup. I guarantee this will save you, one day!
    Outlook Send Immediately Figure: Don't send emails immediately - you will often remember something you needed to add
    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule. It checks your Outlook settings and tell you if it's not set properly.Contact or Send Immediately Figure: SSW LookOut! for Outlook warns you if Outlook is set to send emails immediately
  61. Do you avoid using Auto Archive?

    If you use Exchange Server, Auto-Archive moves the archived items from the Exchange Server to a local drive on your notebook or desktop. While this keeps your Exchange Server nice and small, if you happen to use email to store legal documents, or want to search for emails you've sent a year ago, Auto-Archive is like throwing data away.
    Outlook Auto Archive Figure: Turn off AutoArchive so your emails do not get thrown away

    I promise you'll be thankful you never deleted your Sent Items.

    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule.
    SSW LookOut! for Outlook can tell you if you have archive on.
    Contact or No Aging Figure: SSW LookOut! for Outlook warns you if Outlook is set to archive your emails
  62. Do you avoid using images in your email signatures?

    As useful as email signatures are for promoting your brand, using images in your signatures is a bad idea. To many recipients this can appear to be an attachment to the email. This will annoy some users, so it's better to keep your signatures as HTML or just plain text.
  63. Do you minimise the use of Out of Office?

    When you are on leave, you need to make sure that your mailbox is monitored. The best way to do this is by either:
    • For extended periods off the​ grid, asking someone (nicely) to check your mailbox if you are away for 3 days or more. This ensures that any important emails from clients are actioned,
    • Make sure all client emails are handled before you leave; either delegate the task, or inform the person taking care of your inbox or,
    • Check it yourself every 3-4 days from home or wherever you are (a Hawaiian beach or Himalayan mountain maybe!).  People are generally okay waiting a couple of days for a reply. For extended periods off the grid, the use of Out of Office is good, but when you expect to have partial connectivity and anticipate replying, don't set your Out of Office on at all.

    Figure: Avoid using the Outlook Out of Office Assistant - This can fill up your clients' mailboxes with annoying auto-replies

    The use of 'Out of Office - Automated Response​' emails should be avoided unless you plan to be away for more than a week, and unable to check your emails while away. In this case, it is also good to mention one or two alternative contact(s).

  64. Do you avoid using words that make your email like junk mail?

    Outlook by default reads your emails and can flag your email as potential junk email, or adult content email by examining a list of Sensitive words. This list is not available to the public.

    You should avoid any swear words or be using an angry tone as well.

    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule.
    Contact or bad word
    Figure: SSW LookOut! for Outlook checks that you don't use bad words.​​

  65. Appointments - Do you avoid putting the time and date into the text field of a meeting?

    Avoid putting the date and time into the text field of a meeting since these are often overlooked when changing the meeting time/date metadata.
    Appointment with date in the text Figure: Bad Example - The appointment with the date in the text. Appointment without date and time in the text Figure: Good Example - The appointment without time and date in the text.
  66. Do you add branding to screenshots?

    ​You can communicate better by using screenshots with balloons and other visual elements (arrows, shapes, and highlights) instead of only text. Read the benefits of using screenshots here.

    We recommend you define a standard style for your visual elements by changing the default colours and shapes according to your branding.

    More Information on SSW Branding

    Figure: Bad example - The balloon doesn't match our company colours
    Figure: Good example - Balloon follows SSW branding
    Figure: SSW theme already includes all tools you need with our branding

    Instructions to create and use Snagit themes can be found at Quick Style Themes Tutorial.

    Go Beyond with Snagit Presets

    We use a 1px grey border. Presets can't be defined on the theme. Everyone has to add them on their own Snagit tools:

    1. Select border tool (you need to add it first by [RMB on toolbar] | Customize | Effects | Border)
    2. Set up 1px grey border
    3. Add it to Quick Effects
    4. Click on your new quick effect once to add the 1px grey border (be sure to Select All before copying, because Snagit has got problems with the selecting there…you could miss the added border)

    PS. You don’t have to do step 1, you can just add a border from Effects | Border or only add it to the quick effects and access via Effects | Quick Effects. For the sake of simplicity and ease of access, it’s easier to have this in the toolbar.

    Figure: Adding Presets to your Snagit

  67. Do you know how to hand over tasks (aka Emails) to others?

    The most dangerous time in a task's life cycle is in handover. This is the most likely time for a misunderstanding to occur leading to a task getting lost and not being completed.
    Always make sure you clearly reallocate a task with an email like the good example below:
    I already talked with Sergei, he will handle it.
    From: Adam 
    To: Andy
    Cc: Sergei; 
    Subject: Timepro!
    Hi Andy,
    As per our conversation yesterday about TimePro! 
    keeps crashing when I do a search under 'Company', please fix
    Figure: Bad example - task not clearly redirected

    As per our conversation - please action
    From: Adam
    To: Andy
    Cc: Sergei
    Subject: Timepro!
    Hi Andy,
    As per our conversation yesterday about TimePro! 
    keeps crashing when I do a search under 'Company', please fix
    Figure: Good example - task clearly redirected

    If you need to handover an entire project there are more details here:

  68. Do you know how to recall an email?

    Even though you may check your emails before sending, use SSW lookout to help you avoid mistakes, and even if you send/receive manually, there will still be times where you will send out an email with mistakes or incorrect content.

    But all is not lost.

    (With Outlook 2007)
    If you go into your sent items, open up the offending email, and go into Actions | Recall this Message, outlook will attempt to delete the message from the recipient's inbox before he has a chance to read it.

    Recall a message Figure: Actions | Recall this Message (Outlook 2007)
    (With Outlook 2010)
    If you go into your sent items, open up the offending email, and go into file | Info | Resend Or Recall | Recall this message, outlook will attempt to delete the message from the recipient's inbox before he has a chance to read it.
    Figure: File | Info | Resend Or Recall | Recall This Message (Outlook 2010)

    Outlook will tell you whether it was successful or not

  69. Do you know how to reduce spam?

    Spam. It wastes time and resources. In most cases, the amount of spam received by an organization far exceeds the amount of legitimate email.

    e.g. Average volume of spam received daily at SSW


    Total Email Received Spam Legitimate Spam %
    2130 1331 799 62



    1. Software Spam Filters
    Microsoft Outlook Junk Filter
    GFI MailEssentials
    Red Earth Policy Patrol
    Websense Email Security

    2. Hosted Spam Filters
    Google Apps Gmail (Free)
    Google Message Filtering
    Websense Hosted Email Security
    SpamSoap Core Filtering
    Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services


    At present, all email is filtered at the local Exchange server by GFI MailEssentials 12. While it removes a large amount of spam, an unacceptable amount still reaches user inboxes. The current architecture is shown here. 

    Previous email architecture.
    Figure: Previous email architecture.
    GMail's basic service is the only free hosted solution, so it is naturally the first one to try. With Gmail as part of the solution the architecture changes to the following. The number of emails caught by each of the filters are averages. 

    Current email architecture with GMail.
    Figure: Current email architecture with GMail.


    The following steps need to be taken:

    1. Register for a Google Apps Standard Edition account. Go to and register with your domain name.

    2. Setup a catch-all account in Gmail and enable POP3 access to it. This means that only one account will need to be checked to retrieve filtered mail.

    3. Setup QSS Exchange Connector ( on your local Exchange server. This software bridges Gmail with Exchange. It logs into Gmail via POP3, retrieves the messages and then distributes them to users' individual accounts based on the header recipient fields.

    4. Switch over your MX records to point to Google's servers. This takes around 24 hours to take effect. When the change fully propagates, email will be delivered to GMail and retrieved by Exchange Connector.

    5. Monitor the GMail spam folder for false positives. Move false positives to Inbox. After approximately a week, GMail should have learnt enough to be left unmonitored. Emails can then be retrieved by user request.


    The following report was generated by GFI MailEssentials 12. Note that the MX records changed over on 12/02/08. 

    GFI spam statistics over the architecture change-over periods.
    Figure: GFI spam statistics over the architecture change-over periods.

    It can be seen that after the MX records changed over, there were a couple of days of unusual data. This was due to the MX record change over and filter learning period.
    By the 16th, only 20 emails were marked as spam by MailEssentials. It can also be seen that the percentage of overall spam dropped from as high at 78% to mostly single digit percentages. GMail was now catching the vast majority of spam.

    It must be acknowledged that, while these figures do not represent the amount of spam actually reaching mailboxes, they do give a good indication of how effective Gmail's filters are.

    From further investigation, it was found that info[at], which receives more spam than any other account, was now receiving around 5 unsolicited messages a week, as opposed to a hundred or more prior to GMail implementation.
    In the first two weeks after implementation GMail caught 23124 spam emails, an average of 1652 per day.
    Apart from the obvious benefits, this also saved 641 MB of bandwidth allowance.
    In the case of info[at], a modest calculation of time saved reviewing spam would be 10 hours per year. This estimate is based on an average of 25 emails per day and 4 seconds spent reviewing each one. Actual times will obviously fluctuate, as will the amount of spam other users receive.

    Possible Issues:

    A third-party has access to your email.
    False positives. The GMail filter is very accurate but it is possible legitimate emails will be caught. In the Standard (free) Edition of Google Apps, spam emails are only retained for 30 days before being permanently deleted. With Premier Edition (US$50 for one account for a year) you have 90 days with the inclusion of Postini message management.
    Inbound emails will be limited to 20MB per message.
    In the current stable release (3.5.9) of QSS Exchange Connector, mailing list emails from Yahoo Groups and the like are not correctly delivered to mailboxes when "Automatically detect recipients" is turned on. This has been addressed in beta release and should make it to a stable release soon.
    Using this method, all spam is delivered to one mailbox. This has the advantage that one person can easily review all spam. The disadvantage is that each user doesn't have easy access to his/her spam messages. If users do not personally their own messages, legitimate email is more likely to be lost. Google Message Filtering would be a solution to this issue.

  70. Do you know NEVER to concatenate words in an email?

    You should never use concatenated words in the subject or body of an email, no matter how much better you think it is. You are misguided, always use a “space”, “&” or “and” as your spell checker will then catch mistakes.


    Figure: Bad Example, “CatagoryBrand” will not be spell checked and the mistake overlooked
    Figure: Good example, spellchecker can check all words for correctness.
  71. Do you know not to send attachments in emails?

    t's better to use links to a portal or document store instead of having attachments in your emails.

    If you're sending to a fellow employee, use a link to a document store on your intranet (e.g.

    If you're sending to a client, it would be a link to a document store on their project portal. (e.g.

    Forward client attachments
    Figure: Bad example - Don't send attachments by mail
    Figure: Bad example - Don't use location / filename in the link (URL)

    Tip: If you're using SharePoint, then an even better way to do this is to use a tool like OnePlaceMail to insert a link from SharePoint

    Figure: Good Example - Use OnePlaceMail to send a link to a document in SharePoint

    Using the Document ID Feature in SharePoint 2010 / 2013 will help minimise broken links under the following scenarios:

    1. Company Restructures / SharePoint restructures
    2. Records Management – when items are moved to the Record Centre
    Figure: Good Example - The use of the SharePoint Document ID as part of the link (URL) formation

    If you are using a shared DropBox, then put in a reference like so:

    ​​I've moved the file to our DropBox at:​
    ​SSW_Designers/Project – FireBootCamp/Admin/FireBootCamp-USA-Ultra-Advert.pptx

  72. Do you know not to use "Recall this message..." in Outlook?

    ​Occasionally you will send an email and want to make changes to it after it's already gone. Microsoft Outlook has the option to "recall the message" but this is not recommended mainly because you cannot guarantee the recipient hasn't seen the message already.

    What you need to do is to set a rule to delay sending your emails in 15 minutes for example, which gives you time enough to correct it in most of the cases. If you only realize your mistake after this amount of time, just use "reply to all" mentioning your changes.

    Here is how you do it in Outlook :

    1. Click the File tab.
    2. Click Manage Rules & Alerts.
    3. Click New Rule.
    4. In the Step 1: Select a template box, under Start from a Blank Rule, click Apply rule on messages I send, and then click Next.
    5. In the Step 1: Select condition(s) list, select the check boxes for any options that you want, and then click Next.
    6. When you don't select any check boxes, a confirmation dialog box appears to confirm that the rule you are creating will be applied to all messages that you send.

    7. In the Step 1: Select action(s) list, select the "defer delivery by a number of minutes" check box.
    8. In the Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value) box by entering the number of minutes you want the messages to be held before it is sent. Delivery can be delayed up to 120 minutes.
    9. Click OK, and then click Next.
    10. Select the check boxes for any exceptions that you want. Click Next.
    11. In the Step 1: Specify a name for this rule box, type a name for the rule (E.g. "Delay sending emails").
    12. Select the Turn on this rule check box.
    13. Click Finish.

    Now when you click Send, each message remains in the Outbox folder for the time that you specified and you can make changes to it until then.

    Figure: Bad example - Recalling a message when you want to change an email after sending
    Figure: Good example - Delay sending in 15 minutes (make it less or more if necessary)
  73. Do you know that people misunderstand sarcasm in email?

    From Flame emails missing the mark on the Sydney Morning Herald: "The senders of the [email] messages expected their partners to correctly interpret their tone nearly 80% of the time, but in fact, they only scored just over 50%... Those attempting to interpret the message believed they had scored 90% accuracy".

    Because there is no "tone of voice" in an email, sarcasm can easily be misinterpreted by the receiver.

    "John, make sure your office is clean when clients come in - you might scare them away with all that mess."​​

    Bad example: This is bad because it may seem like John is being reprimanded, even though the sender may just be giving him a "heads up" for next time

    "John, make sure your office is clean when clients come in - you might scare them away with all that mess :)"​

    Good example: When in doubt, use a smiley face at the end of the comment to soften it up a bit
  74. Do you know the right way to report bugs and give feedback?

    ​​​​When reporting bugs and giving product feedback, it is essential that you are as descriptive as possible, so that the developer can reproduce the error to find out what the problem is or understand what features you are requesting

    Try to have one email per bug​/suggestion, but if the bugs/suggestions are related or very small (e.g. they are all on the same page) then you should group them together in a single email.​
    Figure: Bad Example - This email isn't going to help the developer much - it is vague and has no screen capture, and gives no alternate way for the developer to contact the user regarding the issue
    Figure: Good Example - This email includes the product name and version, the category of the issue (BUG), a screen capture and contact number, and shows that the user's system is up to date

    A great template to follow is the Functional Bug template from the ASP.NET open-source project. Spending time to provide as much detail as possible, by ensuring you have the three critical components of: Steps to reproduce, Expected outcome, and Actual outcome, will save the both you and the developer time and frustration in the long run.

    Also, make sure your descriptions are detailed and useful as that can make finding the solution quicker and easier.

    Make sure you always explain and give as many details as you can of how you got an error or a bad experience.

    Hi, Rebecca,

               Where is SSW TV on the navigation?

    - Adam  

    Figure: Bad example - Lack of details

    Hi, Rebecca,

    1. Navigated to
    2. Scrolling down looking for a big graphic like "CHECK OUT SSW TV! CLICK HERE!"
      Me, thinking… "Hmm… let's try the menu at the top..."
    3. About Us? Nope.
    4. Services? Nope.
    5. Products and Support? Nope.
    6. Training? Nope.
    7. User Group? Nope.
    8. Rules? Nope.
      Me, thinking... "OK. Now where? Most likely, the SSW company description will list it..."
    9. Navigates to About Us.
    10. Me, scrolls down… nothing.
      Me, thinking... "OK. Weird. Let's go back."
    11. Me, goes back to homepage.
      Me, thinking… "Is there a site map?"
    12. Scrolls to bottom of page. Clicks sitemap link.
      Me, thinking... "Ctrl+F for TV? Nope."
    13. Me, gives up… types to try and get lucky. Huzzah!

    - Adam

    Figure: Good example - We can easily identify more the one way to improve the UX

    Better than a good description of the bug is a screen recording. This should be followed for a more detailed report. Use Snagit (preferred) or Jing to record your screen.

    Figure: Good example - Recording bug reports in a video can make the issue clearer to see
    Figure: Good example - Giving feature requests via video

    Related rules

  75. Do you know when to use +1?

    When someone makes a suggestion or a complaint. Usually, you only hear from the ones who disagree. It helps to let others on the thread know you agree, by replying with "+1" and a quick sentence.

    From: Adam Cogan
    To: Code Auditor Team
    Subject: RE: Rule files

    +1 on this. It can be quite frustrating​
    From: Uly
    To: Code Auditor Team
    Subject: Rule files

    Hi, I saw two clients today that complained about Rule files being created even though one had already existed. They were all named x.SSWCodeAuditor where x was a number from 1 to 13 in one of the cases. Why do these keep being created?


    Figure: Good Example - using +1 to show you agree
    Read more about Do you know when to use +1?
  76. Do you link internal emails to the rule they follow?

    Having standard internal emails that go out is great, as it helps keep consistency, and the recipients know the format of the information they’re receiving and so can process it quickly.

    However, they may assume that this is just the style of the sender, and not realise that it is a company standard. What's more, if another employee needs to send one of these out later, they may not know the processes that go into its construction. For this reason, it is a good idea to have a link at the bottom (in the footer) of any standard internal email which points to the rule which governs its creation. You may want to put this in XML brackets so it’s easy to spot.

    Link to rule Figure: Good Example – the email links to the standard that explains how to write it
  77. Do you make sure every customers' (and prospects') email is in your company database?

    Most companies keep all their customers' (and prospects') contact information in a database (e.g. CRM, ​SQL Server, Access, Oracle). This allows all staff to easily locate contact details about a particular person. So when you get an email, make sure you check that email address and it is in the company database.

    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule. Stephen Koop not in database Figure: Stephen Koop needs to be put into the database
    Not in database Figure: SSW Lookout! Can also check the emails that you are sending and tell you if the email address is not in your database.
  78. Do you manage your Deleted Items?

    Your deleted items can become quite out of hand if you don't manage them. First, it can waste a lot of space on your hard drive, and second, after accidentally deleting a mail item, it can take days to find it again amongst the 30,000 messages in your Deleted Items Folder.

    Here's a couple of solutions:

    • Permanently delete your deleted items. This is based on the theory that once you have deleted a mail item, you should NEVER HAVE TO LOOK AT IT AGAIN. This is a good theory, but unfortunately we don't always follow it in practice and there's no recovery
    • Move the items into subfolders under Deleted Items. This is a good solution as you can manually archive items, making it easier to search. You can permanently delete items when they reach a certain age.

    Oulook Deleted Items
    Figure: Good Example - Deleted Items ordered into time periods

    NOTE: A hot tip for making it easy to search for an accidentally deleted item is to add the "Modified" field into your Deleted Items view and sort by "Modified". The item from two months ago which you just accidentally deleted will be sitting at the top.

    Figure: Sort by "Modified"
    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule. It leaves a reminder in your Inbox to remind you to clear your deleted items folder 

  79. Do you manage your email accounts?

    I've met some people who have more than 5 email accounts. Now I know that it's pretty easy to get a temporary account while you're on holiday in Spain, or an email account one of your clients might choose to give you while you are working on-site.

    We always use Outlook Web Access or VPN when we're out of the office and need to email. If a clients firewall won't let us do this, and we have to use a local account, we always CC our internal account on every email we send. Emails are an important record for your business, and they need to be treated as legally relevant documents. Having multiple accounts will only cause trouble

  80. Do you minimize your Outlook Distractions?

    Getting in the zone is pretty challenging in any work environment. Outlook in particular likes to offer as many distractions as possible to ensure you can never forget you've got it open. Set your options so that Outlook:
     OutlookDistractions.png Figure: Good Example - Turn off Outlook distractions!
    • Doesn't play a sound
    • Doesn't briefly change the mouse cursor
    • Doesn't show an envelope
    • and DOESN'T display a New Mail Desktop Alert

    Here are a few more distractions tips:

  81. Do you remember that emails aren't your property?

    The Australian Government Privacy Act permits employers to monitor employees' email (and web browsing) logs. While employers are encouraged to develop and promulgate a clear privacy policy, it's essentially a recommendation. Many employers may not have the resources to develop such a policy, but nothing prevents them from reviewing email records on the server. The Government admits that "system administrators are usually able to access everything on the network."

    The sensible response for employees is to be careful about what they say in email and abide by appropriate usage rules / etiquette even if they don't exist! Follow common sense on this one. Remember that your work email address should not be used for personal mail.

  82. Do you Monitor Company Email?

    Following from the previous rule, if email is actually the property of the employer, then it makes sense to actually track who is sending emails to whom.

    Using the Microsoft Exchange Web Storage System, you should track the number of emails sent internally (i.e. to a colleague) and emails sent to clients in your corporate database.

    Outlook Monitor Sent Items Figure: Monitor Sent Items

    One option is to ​use a Utility for Exchange Reports called SSW Exchange Reporter.

    Note that although it is acceptable for seniors to check juniors' email, it is not acceptable for juniors to check seniors' email.

  83. Do you put the estimation at the bottom of the email when sending a task to self ?

    If you are asked to do some work, at first you should send yourself a task and CC the one who asks you to do the task (and other related people ). When you draft this email, please put an estimation at the bottom, so every knows how much you need to finish this task.

    The estimation is more important if the task is from clients. A client cares about the time more than others because he has to pay for having this task done. Thus, he will be happier to see a notification with an estimation. With this estimation, he can stop you easily if he thinks the time is a bit more than excepted. No client would like to know it takes a lot of time to complete this task without being informed of this in advance.

    Send a task to self without an estimation
    Figure: Bad Example - Send a task to self without an estimation
    Send a task to self with an estimation
    Figure: Good Example - Send a task to self with an estimation

  84. Do you reference which email template you’re using?

    In order for other people within your organisation to understand that regular emails that you send are following certain rules and standards, it's a good idea to have a footer in your emails saying something like ""

    This will also have the added benefit of allowing someone else to take over your role should the need arise and it’s much better than having people copy and paste old emails rather than using the latest updated template.

  85. Do you resist the urge to SPAM to an email alias?

    When you post to an email alias, you are posting to many, many people. Unnecessary emails are spam - only send emails that are valid or if there is a need for all to see.
  86. Do you save important items in a separate folder?

    There are many types of emails which you receive but will never actually reply to. For example, a client may email "Sounds great - please go ahead." These kinds of emails should be kept as a reference for the future.

    Emails that came into your mailbox should not be left in your Inbox. The aim is to read, action (if needed) and delete. You should be trying to get your Inbox down to 0 items.

    So what's left in your 'Inbox' should only be 'To Do' items. Sure you might want to add subfolders to group related projects etc. but these subfolders should also contain items 'To Do'. Some people leave emails in their Inbox, for later reference only. We believe this is not a good idea, and you should create 2 folders outside your Inbox called 'Saved Items' and 'Saved Personal Items' for such emails.

    Figure: Good Example - Save important reference items in a separate folder

    Microsoft Outlook provides you with 4 main folders: 'Draft', 'Inbox', 'Outbox' and 'Send Items'. But we believe they are missing 2 additional folders: 'Saved Items' and 'Saved Personal Items'. You can use these two folders to keep the your work related or personal emails that you wanted to keep.

    You can create these two folders next to the Inbox and move the emails there.

    We have a program called SSW LookOut! for Outlook to check for this rule.
    It can add these folders for you.

  87. Do you send bulk email via 'Bcc' field (if all parties are not contacts of each other)?

    To ensure privacy, and not allow parties to get hold of each others' email addresses, emails to multiple parties should be entered in the 'Bcc' field (not the 'To' field).

    Bad Bad Example: Send bulk email via 'To' field
    Good Good Example: Send bulk email via 'Bcc' field
  88. Do you sort your emails by Received AND Important?

    OK - so now you've got your important emails identified, don't let them get lost in the quagmire. If you use Outlook make use of its inbuilt functionality. Always sort your emails by the Received, but add a secondary sort by "Important". This way your important emails always stay at the top to haunt you until they are done.

    Sort by Recieved and Important
    Figure: Good Example - Sorted by Important and Received Date
    I think the Red Exclamation Mark is a good start, but I hate the Blue Arrow - it keeps getting my attention.

    Use sort by importance to sort the items with the blue arrow to the bottom.

  89. Do you think when replying to emails it's better late than never?

    You should always try and reply to emails within a timely period, but sometimes, for many reasons, it can take ages for you to get around to answering that email.

    People see an email 6 months old and just delete it, because it's "too old" or they refuse to reply because "the customer will think we're a joke taking this long to do something!" This is a great way to lose business, no matter how long it takes to do some things, it's always better to do it than not.

    Sometimes people send an enhancement suggestion for a particular product, but their requests are put on the back burner until other important issues are dealt with. It might take 12 months to implement that change, but when it's done, you will email the customer and send them the link to the new version. It's highly likely that their need still exists, and they'll realize that their ideas and suggestions are not ignored.

    Reply to customers regardless of how long it takes to respond. It shows you value their feedback, and it's highly likely they'll give you some more.

  90. Do you unsubscribe from newsletters?

    Throughout your years of surfing the net, you're sure to have subscribed to some newsletters that may have interested you at the time. As your interests and preferences change, you will find that you're still on many different spam lists. Instead of deleting the email from your Inbox and thinking that the problem has been solved, you should take the necessary steps to unsubscribe from the list so that you will never get bothered again.
  91. Do you use "Request a Receipt" selectively?

    ​Do you always demand a receipt for every email you send? This is the equivalent of crying wolf. People get prompted about receipts so often, that eventually they change the settings to automatically ignore receipt requests. Then when someone really, really needs acknowledgement that an email has been received, you never get one, because they've turn off the mechanism.

    Turning this option on all the time effectively throws the option away, not just for yourself, but everyone else as well.

    Outlook Receipt Request
    Figure: Selectively request read receipts so as not to annoy your recipient.
  92. Do you use the search tool to find emails in Outlook?

    Looking manually through your Outlook sent items is something you shouldn't be doing. The better way is to use Outlook "search" functionality.
  93. Do you use active language in your emails?

    Try to use the active voice of a verb wherever possible. For instance, 'We will process your order today', sounds better than 'Your order will be processed today'. The first sounds more personal, whereas the latter, especially when used frequently, sounds unnecessarily formal.

  94. Do you use Offline Email?

    And remember to periodically select "Check All Subfolders" to make sure all folders are being synced in your .ost file

    offline Figure: Periodically check that all your mail folders are being synced in your offline.ost file
    Read more about Do you use Offline Email?
  95. Do you use spelling and grammar checker to make your email professional?

    Improper spelling, grammar, and punctuation on your emails give a bad impression of your company. It looks unprofessional and can result in your message not being conveyed correctly. To ensure this doesn't happen, use Microsoft Outlook Spelling & Grammar Checker on the 'Editor Options' window.
    Figure: You should also check “Always check spelling before sending” to ensure your message doesn't have mistakes
  96. Do you use the security options in Outlook?

    ​When you distribute important information by email all you can do is put "Do Not Forward this please". Important corporate information should be protected better than this.

    Outlook 2003 IRM Do Not Forward
    Figure: You can protect your email messages

    This solution exists in Microsoft Office and is built into Outlook. Entitled 'Information Rights Management', a file level security application built onto Windows Server. The capability enables you to prevent recipients of your emails (and attachments) from forwarding them on, copying any text, or printing the document (be aware that determined chaps could use a lower level screen shot program to get past this).

    Additionally, it encrypts the file as it's sent away. As an added basis - you can secure on a group level (based on Active Directory groups). To prevent an email being forwarded simply create a new email and select the "options" tab and click on "permission" in the ribbon and select "do not forward".

    Outlook IRM Do Not Forward
    Figure: How to prevent emails being forwarded in Outlook

    Note: You may be interested to know that every mail item that you send gets a file saved with these credentials so you can still open the emails when you are offline. To see: go to Start - Run %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\drm.

  97. Do you use the voting option appropriately?

    Usually when an employee from the company wants to make a decision about either a naming convention, a button style, using user-controls or forms, or even something as simple as changing a font; there should always be reassurance from the rest of the team that it should/should not be done.
    Outlook Voting Figure: Good Example - using the voting buttons option.
    1. The subject should start with "VOTE: ..."
    2. The sender should reply with a summary after either everyone has replied or after a certain period of time to let the group know how significant their input was.
    3. The voting options should be short, to the point, and provide a distinct difference for each option.
      i.e. option1;"option1";option2;"option2" is not appropriate.
    4. There should also be an extra option to allow a flexible result if a member of the email group does not want to vote. i.e. yes; no; un-opinionated.
      This will provide an accurate result of the vote and will not force anyone to select an option just for the sake of giving a reply.
    5. Voters should be allowed to add their extra comments along with their vote when replying to all, regardless of whether or not they think it is their "two cents", simply because the person who initially voted is looking for any and all opinions to assure the right decision is made.
    6. When making a vote, try to make the options clear enough so that voters would not have to spend too much time deciding.
      A good voting system is one that allows the voters to choose an option quickly and carry on with their work, unless of course it is controversial.
  98. Do you use Word as your editor?

    In Microsoft Outlook you have the option to use Word as your Email editor.

    Outlook Word As Editor Figure: Make sure you have this check box on

    This has a few advantages:

    1. It automatically compresses images which you paste into your email (meaning a much smaller size email)
    2. You get all the benefits of Word e.g. Formatting and styles, spell checking smart tags, thesaurus - the list goes on and on.
    3. With the emergence of some great 3rd Party Smart Tags you can integrate your database in your email program. Companies often forget that improving their users' ability to handle email efficiently can be one of the biggest productivity gains you can achieve.
    Outlook Using Word As My Editor Figure: See the difference in size
  99. Screenshots - Do you know how to show wanted actions?

    When using Snagit to show actions on a screenshot, follow this:

    1. To enter data – Use the yellow highlighting
    2. To click on a button – Put a square box around it
    3. To point out something – Use the arrow​​
    Snagit Bad Example
    Figure: Bad example – There is no visual difference between different actions
    Snagit Good Example
    Figure: Good example – This screenshot tells that the user should be on the "Message" tab, click on "Attach File" and edit the subject to be "Button types"​
  100. Screenshots - Do you use balloons instead of a 'Wall of Text'?

    ​Some people communicate with a 'Wall of Text'. Communicate better by using screenshots and reduce your amount of words.

    You can take screen captures to the next level by adding balloons that have the appropriate text (aka speech bubbles). Sometimes you need only the text in the balloon and no text in the email.

    The balloon is great because you can point to a specific part of the image. It is much easier than reading the old ‘Wall of Text’.

    Let's look at bad and good examples:

       Baloon Bad Example Figure: Bad example – The email is using a screenshot so that is good, but you need to read the text and relate it to the image
    Check the shadow properties Figure: Good example – The balloon with text on the screenshot, makes it quicker to understand

    See more details on how to configure balloons branding in Fullshot and Snagit.

    Now be aware not to go crazy with this balloon rule.

    Balloon Bad Example Figure: Bad example – Balloon overload
    Balloon good example Figure: Good example – See 3 balloons were not needed
    Figure: Good example – Betsy Weber Techsmith - Part 1 - Creator of Snagit. See full series here
  101. Bounces - Do you know what to do with bounced email?

    Having people report bounce back emails is frustrating and time consuming. The first thing to try when you get a report is to check that your mail server isn’t on a spam blacklist. An easy way to check this is via MX Toolbox.
    Enter the domain to check Figure: Enter the domain to check Then select Blacklist Check Figure: Then select "Blacklist Check" not blacklisted Figure: Getting a zero is good, so you know that you are not blacklisted… so Step 1 is good

    Next step check that you have primary and secondary (and even better tertiary) MX records setup and working.

    SMTP test Figure: Seeing at least 2 MX records is good... Run an SMTP Test to test mail servers. So Step 2 is good

    If success on both steps the error is most likely on the senders side. Send them the an email to check their mail settings.

    Dear xxx

    As per this rule on bounced emails

    • I have checked Step 1 – it is good
    • I have checked Step 2 – it is good
    • The problem is likely your end

    Figure: What to send the person
  102. Bounces - Do you know how to correct a bounce?

    Let's say you press “Send” and get a bounce, e.g. An email in your inbox that reads: 

    Delivery has failed to these recipients or distribution lists:

    Adam Cogan (
    The recipient's e-mail address was not found in the recipient's e-mail system. Microsoft Exchange will not try to redeliver this message for you. Please check the e-mail address and try resending this message, or provide the following diagnostic text to your system administrator.

    Get the correct email address and ‘Reply to all’ with just this text in brackets:

      (Resending with Adam’s correct email)
      [Original Email]
    Figure: Good Example - Correct the email address and send again.
  103. Do you make your CC’s grey?

    ​Cut down the noise in your inbox by visually filtering emails not sent directly to you.

    make cc grey
    Figure: Good Example - Cut down the noise in your inbox by visually filtering emails not sent directly to you
  104. Do you know how to reduce noise on a thread by using a survey?

    Reducing noise in email threads is easy now we have Office365 and OneDrive. 
    Sometimes when organising or planning you will need to gather responses from a lot of people, but having many people reply to the email can create a long and messy thread.

    An easy alternative to this is to use Office365 in OneDrive to create a survey in Excel, and then send an email invitation with the link to your participants. They respond in the survey instead of by email, and the long, cluttered thread is avoided.

    ​​Figure: Bad example – a simple “X or Y?” question thread generated dozens of responses that clogged up the inboxes of the recipients 

    ​Figure: Good example – send an email with a link to a survey instead of asking for replies ​

    ​For a quick introduction to how to use Office365 from OneDrive, watch this video:  ​

  105. Do you know how to send a schedule?

    Have you ever needed to send your calendar schedule to someone to figure out the best time to schedule a meeting with them? Figuring out when someone is available within your organization is usually easy, as Outlook can show you automatically. If you're trying to coordinate with someone outside of your organization, this can be more challenging. In Outlook you can easily include a copy of your calendar schedule to make this process easier.

    To insert a nice looking calendar and .ics file attachment in to your email in Outlook, do the following:

    1. New email in Outlook, go to the ribbon and select Insert / Calendar:


      Figure: Ribbon Insert / Calendar
    2. Select your options to insert the fancy HTML calendar and .ICS file in to the email:


      Figure: Pick your calendar, date range, and amount of detail
    3.  You now have a nice looking calendar showing your availability, ready to send:


    Figure: Pretty calendar ready to send via email


  106. Efficiency - Do all your employees know the quickest way to fix small web errors?

    ​​​Imagine this scenario... Mary notices a small error on a page in her intranet. She is a good employee... She fires up an email and reports the spelling error to info@s* As she sends it she says to herself "That it took more time to report the error than it would have taken me to fix it".

    Small  errors should be fixed by the person who found it. Text changes can be easily done in SharePoint or WordPress. If you know who is the culprit, it might be a good idea do inform that person, including the things you have fixed.

  107. Do you clean your inbox per topics?

    Your inbox should be a task list and should be kept clean. When cleaning up their inbox people tend to go from top to bottom. A better way to do it is to search for a specific topic and clean up all related emails
    Figure: Good example - Search for "SugarLearning", reply 'done' to all emails and delete them​
  108. Do you give your emails a Business Value?

    The problem with emailing a task, is that no one knows how important that email is, in relation to all their other emails. So, what is the solution? 

    ​There are the 3 ways people can send tasks​:

    1. Send an email only.

    Email sign.jpg
    Figure: Bad example - An email with requirements does not indicate the priority

    ​​​​​ 2. Put the task straight into the backlog, and send no email:​

    ​​​​​Figure: Bad example - The developer does not get a chance to ask questions and refine it before it hits the backlog

    3. Send an email, the recipient reviews it and places it into the backlog, based off the specified Business Value. Developers often prefer this method if they like control over their backlog.

    Developer entered.jpg
    Good example - Email tasks with a Business Value, allow the developer to review before putting it in the backlog​​​


    ​The perfect email workflow​​​

    Before you email a task to someone, think about how important it is to you.  Then draft your email, add the Business Value​ using the same scale that you would use to estimate your PBIs​. 

    Email Diagram.jpg
    ​​​​Figure: ​​​Good ​​example - The best workflow for sending an email

    ​​​Q: What if you need to write an email to multiple recipients?
    A: Assign each person a Business Value. ​In the case of "To Myself" emails, you can also add the amount of 'Effort' required too.

    Email screenshot.jpg
    Figure: Good example - The best workflow for sending an email (with multiple recipients)


    Related links

  109. Do you manage your email?

    Often emails are rambling and unorganized, forcing the reader to wade through blocks of totally useless text. When it comes to written communication, less is more. Having hundreds of emails in your Inbox is not uncommon. But it's very uncommon to find people who successfully manage their Inbox. Instead, they let their Inbox become a great black hole with no business value. Email has a bad name in business primarily because people don't treat email correctly.

    ​Email can be a vital tool to your company and your software development project, but it has to be managed. Email should be an accurate record of requests, conversations, and decisions. Emails are legal documents and should be treated with the same care as any other correspondence with clients or employees. Email is also in an extremely effective task tracking tool, and requests made by email should be treated with the same seriousness as Project Plans and other directives, for email can be seen as the protocol between the sender and receiver.

    Please read Rules to Better Email to show how you can more efficiently use email.

    Read more about Do you manage your email?