Email Best Practice Guide

These days email is used by just about everyone. Unfortunately, a lot of users out there don't use it correctly, flirting with potential security risks, using up unnecessary bandwidth and practicing bad communication etiquette.

Here are some basic email usage guidelines to help you handle your email responsibly and to safeguard James Cook University’s reputation and network security.

Prevent virus outbreaks and spam

Viruses are often spread through email. You can greatly reduce the spread of email viruses by using antivirus software, opening email only from trusted sources, opening only attachments you're expecting, and scanning attached files with antivirus software before opening them.

Spam is loosely defined as unsolicited bulk email and loosely correlates to the junk mail that turns up in your home mailbox. But spam represents more than unwanted clutter. It clogs email accounts - and networks and servers - while trying to sell products, spread jokes or propagate internet hoaxes.

Reduce the amount of spam you receive by being cautious where you post your email address.

  1. Avoid publishing your email address on websites or submitting it to every site or organisation that requests it.

  2. Never forward chain messages, which often reveal colleagues' email addresses to other parties.

  3. Use caution when accepting email offers or agreeing to accept mailings from vendors; subscribe only to websites and newsletters you really need and consider creating a generic Hotmail or Yahoo email account for these subscriptions.

  4. Don't open unsolicited email. If you accidentally open spam, don't click links offering to unsubscribe or remove you from the mailing list unless the sender is a trusted vendor.

Install virus protection on your workstation and/or personal computer(s). (JCU provides Sophos Antivirus Software for staff and students at NO CHARGE).

Avoid phishing attacks

Phishing scams are designed to steal consumers' personal information. They often use doctored and fraudulent email messages to trick recipients into divulging private information, such as credit card numbers, account usernames, passwords, and even social security numbers.

Online banking and e-commerce are generally safe, but you should always be careful about divulging personal and corporate information over the internet. Phishing messages often boast real logos and appear to have come from the actual organisation, but those messages are frequently nothing more than copyright infringements and faked addresses.

If you suspect a message possesses any credibility, you are much safer calling the company directly - preferably at a telephone number printed on a paper statement or invoice - and talking to an authorised representative.

JCU does not send emails requesting you to confirm, update or disclose your confidential log in details. If you receive what you consider to be a hoax email, DO NOT RESPOND and please delete it immediately.

Manage your inbox

Sort messages by priority, subject, date, sender, and other options to help find important email that requires your attention. Email etiquette dictates that you respond to all email in a timely fashion. Generally speaking, you should respond to all professional email within a business day, even if it's just to say you've received the message and will look into the matter.

Occasionally, you may receive an email thread that contains responses from several people; always read the entire thread before responding. Keep your Inbox clear of unnecessary emails by regularly deleting or filing messages. Create email folders and set up filters for your incoming messages.

Compose professional messages

It's easy to convey the impression that you're unprofessional or careless if you don't follow some basic principles of good business writing.

  1. Make sure you follow proper grammar and sentence structure when composing and responding to messages and use a spell checker.

  2. Don't type in all capital letters - it creates the effect of shouting.

  3. Break your message into paragraphs for logic and readability.

  4. Before clicking the Send button, give it a final once-over. Reread the entire email, checking it for grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, and typos. You'll be amazed at what you catch. Also make sure your tone is appropriate for the message.

Also remember to maintain an informative and professional looking signature on your outgoing emails. It should not be more than about 4-5 lines long and contain relevant information like your name and contact details.

Write effective subject lines

Writing subject lines can be tricky, but you should always include one. The goal is to summarise the message without being too wordy or too vague. Long subjects tend to be skimmed or ignored, and they don't always fully display in email viewers. For best readability, use sentence case for subject lines rather than all caps:

Agenda for meeting on 15th March



Proper use of the CC and BCC fields

The carbon copy (Cc) and blind carbon copy (Bcc) features found in most email clients allow you to send copies of an email to others you need to keep informed but who aren't necessarily the primary recipients.

When copying others, be certain the email message relates to them. If you use email address lists, verify that all of the members of the list should receive the email too and remove those who don't need to be included. And use the Bcc feature sparingly. If sensitive topics require Bcc’ing others, it may be best to take the matter offline and discuss it in person.

Observe etiquette rules when forwarding messages

Before you forward an email, make sure that all recipients need to receive the message. In addition, be careful when forwarding sensitive or confidential information. Never forward proprietary information to external audiences or to unauthorised recipients. Before clicking the "send" button, review whether a message's contents are appropriate for each listed recipient.

Don't be a party to a flame war

Flame wars are heated email exchanges that are more emotional than reasoned, and they have no place in professional communications. If you receive a flame or suddenly find yourself in a flame war, take a little time before responding, if you respond at all. Think about the situation and reply rationally not emotionally.

You may also decide not to reply but to deal with the issue in person. Often, flame wars are started because of a simple misunderstanding. An ill-phrased comment (or even a well phrased one) can be misconstrued by a recipient, who then fires off a salvo in response. Instead of replying, go talk to the person and discuss the message. If talking with the person doesn't end the problem, involve a manager for assistance in resolving the issue offline.

Protect email addresses

Don't divulge your colleagues' email addresses to vendors, friends, or others outside the organisation. Verify that recipients listed in the To and Cc fields should be receiving messages and that you won't be revealing others' email addresses in the process. Don't post your or colleagues' email addresses on internet forums or bulletin boards, on Usenet groups, in chat rooms, or in other public areas.

Here are a couple of simple ways to help keep others' email addresses private. First, use the Bcc feature when you need to hide their email addresses from external audiences. Second, delete their addresses from messages you forward. It takes only a few moments and will reduce the chances of coworkers' email addresses proliferating in the wild.

Be smart about handling attachments

Email attachments consume inordinate amounts of email server space and network bandwidth and are often the culprits behind virus outbreaks - but they're often the easiest way to transfer files. Just be sure to follow these guidelines when emailing attachments:

  1. Don't attach large files to an email; anything over one or two megabytes shouldn't be sent via email.

  2. Limit the number of files you attach to a message to five or fewer.

  3. Save attachments to your hard drive and then delete the email message containing the attachment.

  4. Don't open unexpected attachments or those sent by unknown parties.

  5. Always scan files with an antivirus program before opening an attachment. Never click an attachment without first confirming that it's virus-free.

  6. Don't annoy recipients by forwarding attachments they can't access. If an attachment requires a new or less-common application, say so in your message.

For additional information on handling email attachments and dealing with spam please read the Email Spam and Attachments Guide .