Email has long since overtaken mailed letters and is fast becoming the most popular business communication tool, second only to the telephone. However, many people have annoying email habits that distract, confuse and can cause potential embarrassment. Here are four email habits that you should definitely avoid.

1. One-word emails
There’s nothing more frustrating than writing a detailed, thought-out email query and receiving a cryptic one-word response. While brevity is good, clear communication and understanding are even more vital. Always be sure to address the person you’re speaking to and to address all the points made in their email.

2. Extremely long signatures
Email signatures often include important and useful information – but some just contain too much. As a rule of thumb, keep your email signature as short and simple as possible. You don’t need to include a CV’s worth of contact and persona info. You also don’t need a page-long confidentiality clause. Rather just include a line or two about your confidentiality policy and add a link to the full version.

3. CCing everyone
Some people have the habit of appending every colleague to every email they send, regardless of relevance. When you email a group of people, make sure that the message you are sending is applicable and important to all of them. If an email thread is no longer relevant to all the contacts receiving it, start a new one or remove their email addresses from the replies.

4. The “long tail”
The long tail is the part of an email that appears below your message and signature – all the messages that were sent earlier in the communication, quoted for reference. Sometimes, this list of previous messages can be pages long, making it hard to find the actual relevant communication. If an email conversation goes past a few exchanges, delete the long tail from your next email. And be careful when forwarding a message to someone else – if you include the long tail by mistake, you could be sharing confidential or embarrassing information.

Anna Malczyk is the content manager of the University of Cape Town Business Writing and Legal Documents course, which starts on 22 March 2011. For more information contact Abby on 021 685 4775 or, or visit