Outlook: Composing Email Messages

We rely on multiple different forms of communication to collaborate effectively, but email messages remains one of the most effective and popular means of communicating. The ability to work remotely has increased the world’s reliance on email to share, organize, and store information. Innovative platforms like Microsoft Office 365 offers features and functions that help your team collaborate better, but the basics of email etiquette remain the same: be polite, be precise, and be professional.

Task: To communicate efficiently when composing and sending an email message.


Use a direct subject line

In many cases, people decide to open an email based purely on the subject line. Strong subject lines are brief, descriptive, and whenever possible, action-oriented. For example, “Board Meeting moved to Tuesday, 11/21” is a stronger subject line than “meeting date changed.” Always choose a subject line that lets the receiver know you’re addressing their issues or other concerns.

Use a professional email address

Having your emails deleted is the last thing you want. One of the best ways to ensure that doesn’t happen is to avoid using a non-branded or nondescript address. You should always use the email address your institution has provided for you. This instantly makes you look more credible and improves email deliverability substantially.

The “reply-all” button should be used sparingly

Nobody likes to open or read email messages that have nothing to do with them, their department, or their individual responsibilities. Ignoring unrelated email messages can be hard, and the repetitive alerts can be irritating if we’re trying to focus on other tasks. Avoid using reply all unless you know everyone included on the list really needs to receive the reply.

Add an email signature

Email signatures can provide your reader additional information about you. Usually, an email signature includes your full name, title, company name, and contact information. Keep your font, type size, and text color the same as the rest of your email.

Use professional greetings

It’s important to learn how to use professional greetings when it comes to email etiquette. Be careful when using casual greetings such as “Hey there” or “Hi everyone.” While casual, friendly greetings are appropriate in many types of emails, make sure you know what sort of audience you’re addressing.

Be wary of excessive exclamation points

If you are in the habit of using exclamation points, be careful to limit them when expressing your enthusiasm or excitement. Some people tend to overuse this punctuation mark and end up using several exclamation points in the span of a few sentences. This may make the writer sound overly eager or even immature. Use them sparingly and only when it is really appropriate.

Be careful when using humor

Without the corresponding facial expressions or tone of voice, any humor used over email can easily get lost in translation. In fact, it is better to rather leave all forms of humor off professional email exchanges unless you know the receiver very well. Also, something you find personally funny might not be remotely amusing to someone else. In some cases, a humor can even seem rude or hurtful, so when in doubt, it’s best to leave it out.

Reply to all your emails

It’s hard to answer every email you receive, but it’s good email etiquette to at least try. This includes emails that were sent to you accidentally: a reply is not mandatory but it’s always good email etiquette. Even something short will suffice: “I know you’re really busy, but I believe you sent this email to me by mistake. I wanted to let you know, so you could get it to the right individual.”

Always proofread before pressing send

Don’t depend solely on your standard spell checker. Your email recipients will notice mistakes, and while the occasional typo happens to everyone, repeated mistakes and misspellings can look sloppy. Just like auto correct, you can’t always trust spell-checkers.

Add the email address after you’ve composed the message

Want to avoid accidentally sending an email message before you’ve finished typing and proofreading the message? It is good practice to type out your email first, then add the email address of the recipient when you are ready to send the message.

Double-check the recipient addresses

Be accurate and pay particular attention when choosing a name from your contacts list for the To line of your message. It’s very easy to choose the wrong name, which can be embarrassing for you and the person receiving the email by accident. Also, make wise use of CC and BCC in email messages to avoid conversational clutter.

Always consider how cultural differences may affect your communication

It is very easily to encounter miscommunication due to cultural differences, especially when your recipient can’t see your facial expression or body language. If possible, customize your message to the cultural context of your chosen recipient. Remember, there may be time zone differences, so you need to take into account as well.

Keep your fonts simple and classic

It is better to keep your fonts and their relevant sizes and colors simple and classic. The most important rule of thumb is that your messages must be easy to read. Use a11-point or 12-point font size and an easy-to-read sans serif such as Calibri, Helvetica, or Arial. Black is the safest and easiest to read choice as far as color is concerned. Try to keep text highlighting and use of bolding, italics, and underlining to a minimum. These effects can help make important information stand out, but look chaotic when used too often.

Consider your tone

Just as humor may be misconstrued, your writing tone might be easy to misunderstand without the perspective one may get from hearing your voice. As a result, it’s easy to come across as abrupt when you are simply trying to be straightforward. Read your email out loud prior to sending it. If it comes across as negative or rude to you, it will definitely be perceived that way by the reader. If you want positive results, remember your basic manners: say “please” and “thank you,” and try not to use words that are overly-negative or dramatic.

Attachments and images

Images included in your signature can cause problems for some recipients. Logos and graphics should not be used in email messages because some email systems register them as attachments. When sending large files use a link or use OneDrive instead.


Task: To avoid your messages being marked as spam.

Anti-spam detection methods look at several factors and create a spam score for each message. When a spam score is high enough, the message is marked as spam. Here are some simple ways to avoid common mistakes which can raise the spam score for your message:


Capitalization, symbols, and punctuation.

  • Don’t use ALL CAPS or capitalization for effect (aLtErNaTe) in the subject line or the body of the message. Don't yell at people. It's not nice. Using all caps in your subject line might get the recipients' attention, but probably not in a good way. Using all caps can really rub people the wrong way. It's annoying and can seem spammy. Instead of using disruptive tactics like all caps to get people's attention, try personalizing your emails, establishing relevancy, and using catchy and delightful language.
  • Don’t use symbols like @ or ! as substitutes for letters in a word. When you ask punctuation to do a word's job, it can really dilute your message./p>
  • Emails with multiple exclamation points or question marks in the subject line or the body of the message can look suspicious. Exclamation points -- especially a whole bunch of them in a row look spammy.
  • Limit the use of special characters.

Email length

  • Make sure your emails are at least one full sentence.
  • Spam messages are often very short, sentence fragments, or only a few words.
  • Don’t send an email that only includes an embedded image or link.

Subject line

  • Your subject line should be related to the body of your email message.
  • Spammers often try to lure you in with a misleading subject line.
  • Keep the subject line neutral and not urgent.

Words and phrases

  • Limit the use of common spam phrases.
  • Don't use spam trigger words. One of easiest ways to avoid spam filters is by carefully choosing the words you use in your subject line and body of the message. For example, free, guarantee, and no obligation. Words like diet and pharmaceuticals are often used in spam messages.


  • Keep fonts simple and easy to read for everyone. People don't like it when we use irregular fonts, font sizes, and font colors at all in emails.
  • Sans serif fonts like Calibri, Helvetica, or Arial are ideal. Limit color use.
  • Don't use a red font when drafting your emails. Same goes for using invisible text (a white font on top of a white background). These are common tricks that spammers use, so it's an instant red flag for spam filters.


  • Avoid deceptive and malicious links in your message as well as an excessive amount of links -- try using OneDrive.
  • Keep Social Media links to a minimum.
  • Do not use Social Media links on external emails if possible.


  • Don't include attachments to your emails.
  • If you want to send your recipients something like a PDF or a Word document, don't attach the file to the email -- otherwise your email could get blocked by spam filters. Instead, upload the attachment to your SharePoint library and link to the file location in your email. This'll minimize the chance of being blocked by spam filters and decrease the load time of your email.
  • Don't embed forms in your emails. Forms aren't supported in email across common email clients due to security risks. Instead, link to a SharePoint site that contains the form in the body of your email.


  • Don't use an overwhelming number of images, or huge images.
  • Using one large image as your entire email, or too many images in general, tends to end up in recipients' spam folders.
  • You'll also want to make your image file sizes as small as possible without losing their visual integrity to prevent long email load times. Not to mention, Microsoft Outlook doesn't recognize background images, so you may want to avoid those and use a background color instead.

Video, Flash, or JavaScript

  • Don't use video, Flash, or JavaScript within your email.
  • By default, most email clients don't allow the ability to view rich media like Flash or video embeds. Instead, use an image of your video player (with a play button) that links to the rich media on a SharePoint site.
  • As for JavaScript and other dynamic scripts, even if a spam filter allows your email through, most email clients won't allow these scripts to function -- so avoid using them altogether.

Sending or replying

  • Avoid using a reply-to address that goes to a different domain than your sender address.
  • Avoid sending emails in mass - anything over 250 could trigger an account lock.


  • Write with your reader in mind.
  • To make it more likely folks will open your emails and not mark them as spam, write your emails for humans, not robots. Writing that makes people want to take action is both simple and compelling. To make your writing sound more personable and relatable, use casual language, colloquial expressions, and even personal anecdotes.

Task: To correct a message wrongly marked as spam.

Sometimes a message receives a high spam score even when the message is not spam.



Step 1 - Make changes to your message based on the list above.

Step 2 - Send the message again.


Need additional help?

Please use this link to the ET&S Help Desk team to locate your local campus contact information. Use the “Submit a Question” for your campus to enter an online support request.


Article ID: 1653
Fri 7/19/19 6:15 PM
Fri 9/23/22 4:01 PM
Applicable Institution(s):
Granite State College (GSC)
Keene State College (KSC)
Plymouth State University (PSU)
University of New Hampshire (UNH)
USNH System Office