E-Mail Etiquette: Advice from Shakespeare

Here is a box we open everyday, but do not greet the overflowing contents with the same exuberance as opening a Christmas gift:
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Image by John Taylor[1] Derivative work: Fred the Oyster (National Portrait Gallery[1]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Even with popular social tools of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and texting,   e-mail remains an important tool of communication at school and in the workplace.

Teaching students how to craft an effective e-mail, one that builds rather than sabotages communication, is an important 21st Century skill.

Who better to turn to for e-mail etiquette than the Bard and his timeless wisdom?

Following are the top five tips Shakespeare might have given on e-mail etiquette.



1. To E-mail or not to E-mail: that is the question. (inspired by Hamlet 1.1)

Before composing e-mails, decide if e-mail is the best way to communicate.
If the communication involves a conflict or a complex issue, a face-to-face meeting or a phone conversation might be the best way to discuss the issue.

Hearing the person’s tone of voice and observing body language benefits communication and can prevent misunderstanding. It is difficult to evaluate tone in e-mails.

2. For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.  (Romeo and Juliet 1.4)

Has a situation really got your blood boiling? If so, better to wait on e-mailing and allow time for reflection on how to respond in a courteous way.

E-mails are sent instantaneously with a click and they become a permanent correspondence, which can be saved or forwarded to others. “Flaming,” incendiary messages, often lead to explosive responses, and it is a better strategy to maneuver around Internet battlefields.

3. Brevity is the soul of wit.  (Hamlet 2.90)

The subject heading of the e-mail should be brief and specific to the topic of the e-mail. E-mail users quickly glance through the string of items in their inboxes and well-crafted subject headings will merit a quicker response.

This subject heading

Smith 2nd period Math Corrections Attached

will get a quicker response than


Also, avoid using all capitals in e-mails, it has the appearance of yelling.

4.  Speak plain and to the purpose like an honest man.  (Much Ado About Nothing 3.18-19)
The main body of the e-mail text should be brief and well structured.

  • Use a topic sentence structure in your paragraphs with the most important statement first in the e-mail.
  • If several questions or points are discussed in the e-mail, aid the quickly scanning eyes of your reader by separating points with a space and perhaps with number or bullet points.
  • Always reread your e-mail before sending to check spelling, grammar, and correct formatting of any attachments (check with teachers to know formats they will accept for attachments).


Remember to consider tone of your e-mail. Be courteous, and if e-mailing a teacher, college, or employer, use a professional tone.

Always evaluate the wording of your e-mail: Is it humor, sarcasm, or downright vindictiveness? Even an emoticon cannot take back poorly chosen wording—the sting of the statement can linger.

5.  Parting is such sweet sorrow. (Romeo and Juliet2.184)




May the Force be with you!

Leave the flowery poetry to Romeo and Juliet.

When considering how to sign off in your e-mail, think about your audience.

A simple “Thank you” may be all that is needed if a request was being made in the e-mail or you could end the e-mail with a statement such as “Enjoy your weekend” or “Looking forward to the school musical.”

The important thing to remember with e-mails sent to faculty, colleges, or employers is to use your school e-mail (not a personal e-mail address—mineblaster@hotmail.com) and avoid any sign offs that include silly names or aliases (Hotshot, Mad Warrior, etc.). Maintain a professional tone.

Universities and E-mail Etiquette

Many universities include “E-mail Etiquette” as part of their online style manuals.

These sites were consulted for this blog, and they may be of interest to you for
further browsing.

“Email Etiquette.” OWL Online Writing Lab. Purdue University. 2015. Web.
1 Jul. 2015. <https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/694/01/>.

Schall, Joe. “E-mail Etiquette.” Style for Students Online. The Pennsylvania
State University. 2015. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.

The below link is a presentation I created for our freshman on the topic of E-mail Etiquette.  It may provide ideas for discussion with your students.  Looking forward to your thoughts on encouraging students in the art of E-mail Etiquette.

E-mail Etiquette (ppt. by Joan Lange)

E-mail image:
By Google (https://code.google.com/p/noto/) [Apache License 2.0 (http://www.apache.org/ licenses/LICENSE-2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.



One thought on “E-Mail Etiquette: Advice from Shakespeare

  1. This is great, Joan. Thanks for posting it. I will definitely find some way to share it with both students and faculty.

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