Email communication is a huge part of our everyday working lives, and its ease of use makes it an invaluable tool. Unfortunately this ease of use and the apparent informality of email also lead to a number of risks associated with its use.
This guidance sets out how best to use email in a business context. It should be read in conjunction with the Email Retention and Usage Policy, and other associated policies and guidance.
One thing to ask yourself when you are considering sending an email is: “Do I really need to send this in an email?” In many instances, a phone call could be the better option, and might save 10 emails going back and forth.
You should also never forget that the University owns the equipment and the @ncl.ac.uk email address that you are using.
This guidance note is set out into three sections: Composing Emails; Sending Emails and Your Responsibilities.
- When replying to a message, type your reply at the top of the page. Do not insert your reply into the text of the email you are replying to, as this can be confusing and may lead to your recipients missing some or all of your points. If you need to reply to specific points from the previous email, you can copy pieces of text into your reply.
- Address your email clearly: ‘Dear Professors X, Y and Z’ not ‘Dear All’.
- Keep your messages short, clear and to the point.
- Try to avoid using acronyms or jargon, unless you are sure that they will be understood by the recipients of your message.
- Use plain English whenever possible, particularly for external messages.
- Don’t leave the subject line of your email blank. Try to use a sensible and informative subject header that explains the content of your message. If your email is a personal message rather than related to University business, then the subject line should begin with ‘Personal’.
- Don’t write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see printed or published. Remember that emails are covered by the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act, and therefore they can and will be disclosed in response to requests for information made under these laws. It is a criminal offence to alter, delete or destroy any information that has been requested by someone in an attempt to prevent them from gaining access to it.
- Remember that it can be difficult to recognise tone and context when something is written in an email. Re-read your message before you send it to ensure it makes sense and cannot be misconstrued.
- Don’t use ‘Reply to All’ unless everyone listed needs to see your reply. Also, only ‘cc’ people into an email when necessary.
- Don’t send messages in Rich Text or HTML format without good reason, and don’t include backgrounds or other visual enhancements. These greatly increase the size of messages and can make a message display incorrectly or be unreadable for people who have a visual impairment.
- Explain if you expect the recipient(s) of your email to do something as a result of your message. For example, don’t just forward a message onto someone and assume that they will know what you expect them to do with it.
- Don’t attach large files to emails if you could use a link to a shared network space or a website instead. Attachments account for a large proportion of the storage use on the email system.
- Double check the ‘To’ field before you press ‘Send’, to avoid sending emails to the wrong people. Be extra careful if you are using Outlook’s auto-complete feature which adds names in as you type. This feature can be turned off:
- On the ‘Tools’ menu, click ‘Options’.
- On the ‘Preferences’ tab, click ‘Email Options’, and then click ‘Advanced Email Options’.
- Clear the ‘Suggest names while completing To, Cc, and Bcc fields’ check box.
- Use blind carbon copy (‘Bcc:’) when sending an email to a large group of people. This will stop you disclosing all email addresses on the list to all recipients of the email.
- In all other areas, we advise against using ‘Bcc:’. For example, if you want to send a copy of an email to someone without the knowledge of the intended recipient it is better to forward a copy after it has been sent. This avoids the danger of the person in the ‘BCC’ field using the ‘reply to all’ facility, which would alert the original recipient to the blind copy.
- Remember that an email sent from your University account is similar to a letter on official University paper – do not say anything that might discredit the University or anything which might imply a legal obligation (unless you are authorised to do so).
- The laws of the land relating to written communication apply equally to email, such as those relating to defamation, copyright, plagiarism, obscenity, misrepresentation, freedom of information, data protection, discrimination and harassment.
- When participating in non-work forums, you must not use your @ncl.ac.uk email address.
- Never reply to emails asking you to provide your login and password details. The IT Service will never ask you for this information, and any message that requests this is a malicious scam.
- You may receive some junk or spam emails. You should simply delete these messages. Do not open any attachments or click on any links in these messages.
- If you are away from the office and not picking up emails, you should set an out of office reply. This should give an alternative contact for any urgent queries. You should also include the firstname.lastname@example.org address as an alternative contact for any freedom of information requests. Using the timed out of office option turns this reply off automatically when you return to the office.
- Do not forward any chain emails, scams or hoaxes.
- Never use your University email address to spam other users.
- Out of hours access to email is provided for your convenience, but remember you should have no expectation of receiving a response to your messages outside of normal office hours.