Stop sending annoying email

Merlin Mann at 43 Folders mentions Five email tics I’d love for you to lose. That’s five things to avoid unless you want your email messages to annoy your friends and colleagues, and those five things are good examples of irritating email behaviour. I can add a few of my own favourite email annoyances though:

  • Top posting, as mentioned and discussed in Sensible email.
  • Writing half a question in the subject line: “What do you think about”, or “Could you”.
  • Writing the entire message in the subject line. Unless the entire message consists of no more than two or three words, like “Beer tonight?”.
  • Replying to a message, completely changing the subject, and not changing the subject line to reflect that.

I could go on.

For some advice on what to do when sending email, check out Email Etiquette by Kim Siever.

Posted on November 11, 2005 in Quicklinks, Usability


  1. Actually, top posting makes sense when there are just few words in rpely and you don’t want to make the recipient read those sentences he wrote again.

  2. It’s top posting how gmail and other such email services default to.

    Top posting if I understand correctly is when the response appears above the message that is being responded to. Do I have that correct?

    The only case where I prefer someone not top post is when they are talking on a mailing list. In that case, yes, it’s very annoying. For normal email correspondances I am under the impression that top posting is the standard default.

  3. November 11, 2005 by grumpY!

    another annoyance - establishing (faux) geek cred by incorporating your gpg public key in your signature. pki has never got off the ground, and it isn’t going to start with your email. most people with this key in their sig probably wouldn’t even know how to decrypt a message signed with this key.

  4. A: Because it’s annoying to read. Q: Why is top-posting bad?

    Good old quote I read somewhere.

  5. I’m glad to see the other one of my most hated e-mail habbits was mentioned in Merlin’s list: HTML mail. I can’t stand it, especially if it’s the HTML generated by MS outlook, though others are usually almost as bad. In fact, the jury is still out on whether I hate HTML mail or top posting more.

    Two other pet peeves of mine would be unrequest/unexpected binary attachments from people I don’t know; and mail clients that don’t support format=flowed, nor get the signature separator (“— “) correct.

  6. I don’t grumble that much: I’m happy to get any e-mail at all! :D

    I generally prefer longer e-mails though, short e-mails (unless appropriate to the context) seem a bit of a weak effort at times.

  7. Okay…my spelling of ‘appropriate’ was shocking in the former post (can you amend that Roger?)


    Why would I do that? Why ‘everyone’ I know? Hmmm….is there a virus in the mail and you just want it spread faster/wider? And the story sounds so damn contrived - I can’t possibly have sympathy for it!!

    People who type all their e-mails in UPPERCASE only…please no! :D

  8. November 12, 2005 by Gary Turner

    Like Lachlan, it’s close with me between top posting and html for worst annoyance. Top posting wins(?), though, because my MUA just give me the plain text and politely asks about images.

    What goes beyond annoying are the folks that, when bottom/interleaved posting is explained, wave it off with the arguement that Outlook puts the cursor at the top. Now that’s a PITA.


  9. Gary that’s an interesting argument for considering top posting worse than HTML mail, but in my experience the plain text generated from the HTML version in multipart e-mails is often as difficult, or more difficult, to read than the HTML version, particularly if the sender has used a lot of useless formatting, hyperlinks, images, etc.

    OTOH, top posting can be difficult to understand due to reading the response out of context, yet (ironically) top posted HTML mail is easier to read than HTML mail with inline replies, especially if it’s quoted using a different colour from the reply (which, of course, does not show in pain text mode), rather than the proper quote mark.

  10. Well, the summary just takes the biscuit. Amen.

  11. November 13, 2005 by Mordechai Peller

    Besides top posting (unless it logically makes sense), what annoys me the most is when replies aren’t trimmed. This especially annoying on mailing lists when not even the info the lists automatically appends to every email.

    After that, it’s hijacking a thread.

  12. November 14, 2005 by Tommy Olsson

    A pet peeve of mine: people who send important information that I’ll want to save, in an email with a blank subject line (or something silly like ‘Hi!’). Try finding that in your folder hierarchy. Of course, Opera’s search function helps a lot with this, but I think it’s common courtesy to write a proper subject line.

    Oh, and top posting should be a capital offence.

  13. I’d agree with most of annoyances on those lists, well the new thing I learnt today was the phrase “Top posting”.

  14. One thing that I’d like to add that really does my head in is when people start a new topic in a mailing list by replying to an existing one. They might change the subject but it still has the In-Reply-To: header pointing to the Message-Id: of the email they replied to so it screws up mutt’s threading capabilities.

  15. I work at a printshop and often sends a preview to the customer before printing, by e-mail.

    One time I got a reply by one customer, but she wrote about something completelly different. (Lots of customers reply to emails, even though its not a “reply”, because they do not bother to use their adress book to write a new email, so I did not think that it was strange.)

    Later that week, she called, and asked if the printing was finished soon. And it seemed she had put an “OK” at the end of the subject line. Which I did not see… I usually do not study the subject line. Aspecially not in replies! For me, subject is a summary for the email, or a hint of what its about, not a replacement or [sarkasm]a place for the stuff that would not fit in the body of the e-mail[/sarkasm] :/

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