“In the late 1870s, when the telephone was invented, people didn’t know how to greet a caller. Often, there was just silence. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, suggested that people say ‘Ahoy!’ Others proposed, ‘What is wanted?’ Eventually ‘Hello’ won out, and it hastened its use in face-to-face communications.” – The New York Times

In a piece about digital etiquette, The New York Times notes that struggling with a new communication technology isn’t a novel concept. People’s reservations about the telephone sound eerily similar to those expressed by today’s email users. However, even 25 years after its invention, email protocol is still a work in progress. 

Some rules suggested by the piece:

  1. Above all, don’t waste the recipients time.
  2. Don’t ask for information that can easily be assessed via Google-ing.
  3. Don’t ask for long form answers via text.
  4. Skip time-wasting emails and texts that just say “k” or “thanks.”

If you have your telephone manners down pat but want to send better (and more effective) emails, we suggest our email etiquette series (Post One. Post Two).

  • beatboxing

    I like the thanks email because 1) sometimes you want to say thanks 2) it serves as an acknowledgement that you received the information. I’d like to see an extension to the email RFC that would equate to a like button on every email. And that’s not to say you explicitly Like the email, but more of a combination of 1 & 2, a personal noninvasive acknowledgment, if you will.

    • http://www.planestrainsandplantagenets.com/ Kerry

      Totally agree – sometimes information gets missed and a ‘Thanks’ email lets me know that whatever I’ve sent over has made it through.

    • Christina

      So agree with you, and I regularly think that an equivalent to a “Like” button for professional emails would successfully play the role of a “thanks” or an “agree” note. In addition to reinforcing complicity/alignment between users and serve as acknowledgment that info is received. Also useful for emails received by an entire group, “liking” the reply of another recipient would confirm that opinion is shared – great for recipients who quickly read emails but don’t take the time to reply, or for senders who adressed their email to 50 people but don’t necessarily want to receive 50 email-replies… Hopefully someday they will create such an extension ! In the meantime, I also considere that receiving or sending a “thank you” email does not take much time nor space, but is highly appreciated and contributing to well-being and recognition at work space.

    • AussieBuggeer

      It shows how important it’s not to simply accept anything that we are reading on internet. Seems like author’s arbitrary set of rules under ‘some rules suggested’. ‘Thanks’ email – it’s definitely acts as handshaking protocol ending communication. Like in marine radio:”Over and out”. Plus it’s nice to receive ‘thanks’.

  • http://www.jeremymeyers.com/ Jeremy Meyers

    Seems like the problem here is not that ‘thanks’ shouldnt be used, but that email is a particularly awful medium for task and project based communications, that ‘thanks’ emails are typically part of. Time to rethink email-based workflows and move over to project management solutions.


  • http://twitter.com/carlaxelfranzon Carl Axel Franzon

    I find the “thanks email” helpful because I know the message has been received and acknowledged. One tip I have seen is to put the thanks in the subject line after the other subject so that the person does not have to open it. Of course that messes with GMail and threads but it helps with workflow.

  • http://www.JeremiahStanghini.com/ Jeremiah Stanghini

    I totally understand the argument for efficiency and maintaining work flow, but I think the idea of nurturing relationships is often overlooked in this discussion. While a short “thanks” email may not seem like it’s fostering a relationship between the sender and the receiver, I would argue that it is. This quick display of gratitude informs the receiver that the sender appreciates the receiver’s work… and had the forethought to tell the receiver.

  • min amisan

    I might be a tiny bit old fashioned here, because I get irked if I perform a task for someone or send some vital info and never receive any kind of ‘thanks’ reply. As well as being courteous, some kind of confirmation is necessary now that so many emails routinely go missing or are banished to spam folders (so much so that “oh, I didn’t get your message” is an accepted excuse for “I ignored your message”).

  • http://twitter.com/claudiaibetpere Claudia Ibet Perez

    I agree with beatboxing. The main reason I like to say thank you is to acknowledge the person that sent me an email. I don’t like them to think that I’m ignoring them. I think it’s a good communication manner.

  • irisvk

    Really?? I totally hold a grudge when I don’t receive a thanks email, hah.

    • dawn white

      me too 🙂 maybe I shouldn’t but it seems rude not to thank a person

  • http://sohotechtraining.com/ Deb Lee

    A “thanks” e-mail isn’t always necessary and sending one depends on the person receiving it. Some people need one. Otherwise, you might have to deal with a phone call or yet another e-mail that says, “Did you get my e-mail?” A “thanks” message can head that off at the pass and doesn’t take very long to do.

  • Maria Falvey

    Yes, yes, for the love of all that is good in the world… YES!

  • Manners Count

    I appreciate it when I receive a “thanks” email, because it lets me know the writer actually gives a flip about something I did. However, I do not like text messages and the “ty” and “yw” texts absolutely make me crazy! If it’s email, I’ve already got my computer on and the email program open and I don’t have a problem opening a message with the ‘thanks’ message. However, having to get my cell phone back out of my pocket just for a flippin’ thanks text takes time and is very frustrating. Ban the thanks text if you must, but leave the email alone. Thank you! 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/DOLOMERCADO Dolo Mercado

    I do the same as Carl…I put the thanks on the subject line so the receiver doesnt need to open the mail… ..and do the same with short emails that can fit in one line

  • Erin

    Totally agree with the ‘thanks’ email as an acknowledgment that the information was received.

  • http://envecreative.com/ Sarah Espano

    Ranted about email etiquette on my own blog too. It remains one of my most popular posts. What about the trend of using NTN (No Thanks Needed) at the ends of emails? I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s “a thing.”

  • Astarte

    I am a full-time telecommuter working in IT, and I feel like I spend way too much time sorting through emails that don’t concern me – – some people love to copy everyone they can think of — but I would NEVER stop sending Thank You’s. (I do not acknowledge every email. I send thank you notes when someone has gone out of their way to be helpful to me.) Most of the people I work with do not express gratitude and it’s a shame. (The worst offenders are the ones who have ignored my contributions because I am low on the totem pole. Trust me, I move on but I don’t give the same amount the next time they ask for my help.) Gratitude is extremely important – maybe more-so – in a virtual environment.

  • David L. Morehead

    The world is lacking in common courtesy as is. I appreciate even a simple “thanks” over no response. It’s good to see most people agree ….thanks, Sean !

  • http://www.dontheideaguy.com Don The Idea Guy

    These comments would prove more enlightening were the ages of the contributors on either side of the discussion to appear with their remarks.

  • Aimee

    I will always err on the side of common curtesy. Society has slipped in so many ways. I’m not prepared to sacrifice a thank you email for a few minutes of my time especially if someone has gone out of their way to help me. I am very relieved to see I am not the only one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnpaul.wilkens John Paul Wilkens

    I think you guys are off on this one. “Thanks” replies are like a “10-4” Remove those from the radio, and people would have no idea if the signal went through or not. Peace of mind.

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