Set up a branded email signature and get tips on using email effectively.
Using the correct branded email signature makes your messages appear official and professional.
Read these common conventions around best practice.
First: think before you send an email. Is it the best way to communicate? A more complex message might be better discussed face to face or delivered as a presentation.
Make your aims clear
- Make clear at the beginning of your email who you are sending it to and who you’re copying in. This is not always clear when emails are forwarded or copied and addresses aren’t included.
- Consider what you want the recipient to think, feel and do in response. How you write your message can promote good collaboration and inspire others.
- Add people as recipients when you want them to take some sort of action. Only use CC for people who need to know the information.
- Give your email a relevant subject line and stick to this when writing your message rather than introducing other topics.
- Be explicit about what you want the recipient to do and by when. Make this clear at the start rather than the end.
- If you really need to know an email has been received and read, ask for confirmation.
Be considerate when sending a response
- Before forwarding on emails, consider whether they are confidential or expressly for you.
- Before replying to or forwarding an email, use your judgment to consider if it is really necessary or if you need to reply-all to everyone.
- When replying to emails, it may be better to only quote part of the message so people don’t have to read the full thread. Sometimes it’s easier for others to see all the exchanges.
- Consider when to select reply instead of reply-all, for example, when discussing minor details that are not relevant to everyone.
- Before sending, scan down your email and delete unneeded parts of the thread. Try to keep the thread to just a few messages.
- If you find yourself getting into a repetitive email dialogue, consider reducing the number of copied recipients or speaking in person instead.
Use judgement when adding files and graphics
- Try to avoid attaching documents to emails; use hyperlinks where possible. This helps to avoid data breaches.
- If you do have to send files, avoid sending large (over 10MB) attachments. Consider using file-sharing methods such as Sussex Box or WeTransfer. Contact ITS for advice on this.
- If your attachment contains vital information you want everyone to see, it may be more effective to put the content in the email body instead.
- Explain what attachments are being sent, in case the recipient doesn’t see them or they aren’t received.
- Embedded graphics and formatting may not display for everyone, so make sure the email is clear without them. For example, instead of adding a graphic containing text, write the message into the email body instead.
Manage your own use of email
- Consider working on email only at set times during the day. Even if you don’t, make allowance for people who do this: don’t expect instant replies.
- Delete emails or move them to folders as soon as you have read them. Emails should only be kept for as long as they are required.
- If you can’t delete something, mark it as important to return to later.
- Regularly empty your deleted items. This is important for security and data protection.
- When you are away, use an auto-reply explaining who to contact in your absence. See My IT Account.
Develop a professional writing style
- Start with a greeting. This makes sure your words are received in a friendly or more formal way depending on who you are communicating with. No greeting at all can appear blunt or cold.
- In general, try to write less formally than an official letter but more formally than when speaking. Email lacks the signals and clues of spoken language. Using a plain, simple style will help you to be understood.
- Be wary of using humour or colloquialisms. These may not always be understood and could cause unintended offence.
- Exclamation marks and block capitals may come across as aggressive. Emojis can also be misunderstood so avoid them when writing to external contacts and try to use sparingly if at all.
- Only use acronyms if everyone understands them. Acronyms can exclude new people. To avoid this, use terminology in full before introducing an acronym.
- Keep paragraphs and sentences short: they are easier to read.
- The optimum length of an email is about three paragraphs, so if your communication is much longer than this, consider breaking it into separate emails or separate sections with headings.
- Always sign off your email. Never send an anonymous email from a shared account without adding your name. Using your name and email signature shows that you are taking ownership of what you are writing.
- Try to reply in a timely way, even if it’s just to acknowledge the message and say you will give a more detailed response within a defined timescale.
- Once drafted, spell check and proofread your email before sending it. Some people read messages aloud to hear how they sound.
- Use fonts such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman, 10 or 12 point size and black or dark blue in colour. Bright or pale colours for text are unlikely to meet accessibility standards for readability.
Understand legal and security issues
- Think about where your email could end up. Sussex emails are subject to Freedom of Information requests, so make sure you are always as professional as possible.
- Note that emails sent from a Sussex staff email address carry the same authority as letters sent on University headed paper.
- Laws relating to written communications apply to email messages.
- Email should not be used for frivolous, abusive or defamatory purposes: emails are actionable within the laws of defamation.
- Emails can constitute harassment and be used as evidence of such.
- Where ITS detects abuse or inappropriate use it will take action to address it.
- Unless you are certain about the authenticity of an email, do not act on its content as it could contain a virus or be fraudulent.
- Never disclose confidential information – such as passwords – in response to an email message.
Learn how to classify and handle your emails
- Unless using encryption techniques, all email is insecure. Anything you record in an email may be read by others. Take great care when considering sending out personal, confidential or sensitive information by email.
- Emails should be classified in one of four ways:
- Public/Open – in the public domain or appropriate for public disclosure or dissemination
- Internal use – can be shared with appropriate individuals at the University, with minimal restrictions
- Sensitive – unauthorised disclosure would likely impact individuals or cause financial or reputational damage to the University
- Protected – unauthorised disclosure or dissemination could result in severe financial or reputational damage to the University, or significant harm to individuals.
See staff guidance on the classification and handling of information. This includes the University’s Information Classification and Handling Policy and extra training notes.
Communicating to a group of staff
- Only ask managers to cascade information if they themselves need to know it first or have useful context to add in forwarding it.
- Only use mailing lists for University business.
- Mailing lists provide useful groupings to target messages to the right groups of people, but don’t misuse them.
- If you want all staff in a certain section to receive an email, use the appropriate mailing list or speak to the head of the unit and see what the most effective communication route is.
- There are routes for getting emails to all staff in the University. If you need to do, this contact the internal communications team.
Read more about email as a communications channel.
Find out how to set up emails and use tools such as filters and auto-replies.
ITS can set up mailing lists for you, which make it easier to compose messages to lots of people.