E-mail Etiquette

A dean at the University of Missouri has apologized for accidentally broadcasting his response to a student’s e-mail to the entire graduate student listserv. It seems that the student’s original message to the dean was copied to the graduate student distribution list, but because the sender did not have permission, only the dean received the e-mail. When the dean went to respond, however, he hit “Reply All.” The dean does have permission to distribute messages to the listserv, and a private message became public.

The gaffe recalls another e-mail mishap where a history department sent a message to all the candidates who had applied for a job opening there. Rather than hide the recipients’ names in the BCC line, the chair made visible all the applicants–including some who did not want their current employers to know they were looking for new jobs.

It’s easy to see how slip-ups happen. We use e-mail so freely and fleetly that we neglect to edit our messages before we send them out. One solution is to schedule when messages go out.  For instance, in Outlook, after composing a message, click the button that says “Options.” It will show a box of choices. Under “Delivery Options,” you can select the time you want the message to go out. By choosing a time later in the day, you buy yourself a chance to reflect on the e-mail and make changes. You can also use this method to send messages at odd hours, making your colleagues think you’re working when they’re sleeping.

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