Email Etiquette 101: How to Spot Phishing Attempts and Avoid Spam

Email Etiquette 101: How to Spot Phishing Attempts and Avoid Spam

Sending emails is part of our daily routine. But do you know the email etiquette that helps you stay cyber-safe? Proper email etiquette allows you to identify phishing attempts, avoid spam, and present a professional image. Master these email basics and level up your digital communication!


Know the Email Lingo

The email comes with its own language. Learn these key terms:

  1. Phishing: Fraudulent emails disguised as trustworthy sources to steal personal information. Watch for poor spelling, urgent requests for sensitive information, and unknown senders.
  2. Spam: Unsolicited bulk emails, usually promoting products or services. Avoid entering your email in online forms, contests, or questionable newsletters to reduce spam.
  3. CC: Carbon copy recipients who can see the email content and other recipients. Only CC those who need to collaborate on the thread.
  4. BCC: Blind carbon copy hidden recipients who see only their email addresses. Use BCC when adding FYI recipients to avoid exposing their emails to all.  
  5. Subject line: Brief description of the email topic that shows in the recipient’s inbox. Craft a clear, specific subject line so recipients can prioritize properly.
  6. Attachment: File sent along with an email message, like a PDF or Word doc. Check attachments from unknown senders for malware before opening.
  7. Read receipt: Request to receive notification when an email is opened. Use sparingly for important messages, not routine ones.
  8. Out of office (OOO): Auto-reply when the recipient is unavailable. Set an OOO if you’ll be away so senders know when to expect a response.
  9. Thread: Series of back-and-forth emails with the same subject line. Keep threads concise and don’t change subjects mid-discussion.

Review this essential vocabulary before sending your next email to avoid confusion or miscommunication. Understanding terms like BCC, phishing, and read receipt helps you use email more intentionally and with better etiquette.

Mind Your Manners

Practice good email manners to maintain professional relationships:

  • Use a clear, specific subject line. Summarize the topic so recipients instantly know if the message requires their attention or action.
  • Be concise and polite. Skip unnecessary details and get straight to the point, but politely. Avoid seeming demanding or terse.
  • Reply promptly. Respond within 24 hours during the workweek if possible. Set an out-of-office message if you will be unavailable or delayed in responding. 
  • Proofread every message. Double-check for typos, grammar issues, or unclear phrases, especially with important emails. Poor writing looks unprofessional.
  • Use professional language. Stay away from slang, emojis, or all caps. Your tone should match a formal business letter. 
  • Respect privacy. Don’t share emails without permission. BCC recipients who don’t need to see each other’s emails.

Following basic manners conveys respect for recipients and helps you stand out. Being concise, responding promptly, and avoiding rude language encourages productive discussions and strong relationships.

Format for Success

Follow standard formatting to keep emails readable:

Include a greeting. Open with “Hi [Name]” or “Hello [Name]” before your message. Avoid just jumping into the content.

Organise content with paragraphs. Break up walls of text by grouping related information into short paragraphs.

Use bullet points and numbered lists. Break apart long lists or key takeaways into easy-to-read bullets.

Limit line length. Keep lines under 70 characters maximum to prevent awkward wrapping on small screens. Consider the mobile experience.

Add whitespace between sections. Separate ideas or questions with a blank line. White space improves scannability.  

Close with a sign-off. End with “Best regards,” “Sincerely,” or “Thank you for your time.” Sign off properly instead of just your name.

Include your name. Type your full name so recipients know exactly who sent the message.

Proper formatting removes friction for the reader. Making emails easy to scan and digest improves comprehension and response rates.

Spot Red Flags 

Watch for these common signs of phishing emails:

Suspicious sender address. If the sender’s email looks odd or misspelt, verify it before clicking links or attachments.

Urgent demands or threats. Messages insisting you take immediate action or face consequences are manipulative red flags.  

Too good to be true offers. Claims you won money, inherited from a long-lost relative, or other fake prizes should raise suspicions.

Requests for sensitive information. Legitimate companies won’t ask for your Social Security number, bank account details, or login credentials over email.  

Poor spelling/grammar. Messages with odd phrasing or many mistakes could indicate a scammer who doesn’t speak your language fluently.

Generic greetings. Less personalized messages addressed just to “Dear user” or “Hello” seem more suspicious.

Links and attachments. Don’t click links or open attachments from unknown senders that could contain malware.

Stay vigilant against phishing by looking for telltale signs like urgency, odd senders, and requests for sensitive information. If an email seems fishy, delete it or confirm legitimacy directly with the company before taking action.

Avoid Spam Triggers

Dodge unnecessary spam using these pro tips:

  • Avoid submitting contact forms with your primary email unless essential. Spammers harvest emails from online forms. Use an alias or secondary address instead.
  • Read contests/sweepstakes fine print before entering. Often your email will be sold or shared which directly leads to more spam.
  • Use an alias when signing up for newsletters or freebies to keep your main inbox clear of non-essentials.
  • Opt out of marketing emails. Look for unsubscribe links at the bottom of messages or contact the sender requesting removal from lists.
  • Use spam filters. Email services like Gmail have decent filters that place suspected spam into a separate folder for review instead of the main inbox.
  • Mark confirmed spam as junk. Help train filters by reporting or blocking unwanted messages after reading them. Fewer items incorrectly flagged means better protection.
  • Avoid “download” links. Don’t download attachments from spam or unfamiliar senders. That gives spammers confirmation your email is active.  

Staying vigilant helps reduce clutter and protects your productivity. Limit sharing your real email address, use aliases when possible, and diligently unsubscribe from unneeded emails.

best practices for professional, respectful emails

Use CC only for recipients who need to collaborate and be involved in the email discussion. CC overshares recipient emails. Use BCC when adding recipients for informative purposes so they don’t see the full list.

Following proper email etiquette takes a little extra effort but pays off through more effective communication, stronger professional relationships, and better protection from phishing risks. Be concise, respectful, and mindful in all your messages. Mastering these email basics helps you become an email etiquette expert!


Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I check and respond to emails?

For most office jobs, check your primary inboxes at least twice on weekdays, preferably morning and afternoon. Respond to priority emails within 24 hours or less if an urgent request. Use an out-of-office message if you will be unavailable to respond for multiple days.

What is the proper way to forward an email thread to someone else?

If forwarding a long thread to bring someone up to speed, provide context by including the most recent messages necessary to understand the discussion and decision points. Specify in your message if you need the new recipient to take any particular action after reading. 

Is it okay to send emails late at night or on weekends?

Avoid sending non-urgent messages at inappropriate times unless you confirm the recipient’s schedule and preferences. Use delay send features if available to schedule emails for business hours. Respect people’s time.

What’s the best way to request a read receipt?

Only use read receipts for important emails, not routine ones that don’t need confirmation. And never demand or expect receipts; recipients may have their settings disabled. Politely ask if needed, “Please let me know you received this email when you have a chance.

How can I prevent my emails from ending up in spam folders?

Include the recipient’s full name, company domain name, and your name and email signature. Avoid using all CAPS, overusing exclamation points, or other red flags. Ask recipients you regularly email to add you to their contacts list and safe senders list. 

How should I handle cc’ing managers and executives?

Only include leadership when truly required. Respect their time and full inboxes by not default cc’ing up the chain. When in doubt, ask, “Do you need me to cc anyone on this thread?”

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