Email practices: When to use the Important flag

This morning I received an email from the Customer Service Coordinator of a 3rd party control library vendor which was marked as Important.  My eyes picked up that email and I immediately opened it, only to find out that they were only soliciting feedback on the control library we have recently purchased.  What, this isn’t important; well, it isn’t important to me! This raised the question, when should you use the important flag?  In my mind the Important flag is used for just that Important emails, for example:

  • Information about “dangerous” bugs/fixes (ie security related issues that should really be fixed immediately)
  • Information that is important to the recipient of the email (this includes the previous point) such as a server outage or overdue invoices etc
  • Time limited information/tasks – for example I participate in a number of beta programs that require feedback by a given date.  If I haven’t provided feedback prior to that date, I would find it acceptable to be emailed with an “Important” reminder.  Similarly offers that are only available for a limited time (assuming I have subscribed for notification) would also be acceptable.

Ok, so it’s kind of hard to encapsulate usage of the Important flag into a one-size-fits-all rule.  I guess point 2 really highlights where I’m coming from in that the email should be Important to the recipient of the email, after all if the email wasn’t important to the sender, they wouldn’t have sent it 😉

The other area where this point is relevant is when posting to a newsgroup/email list with the Important flag and/or URGENT in the subject line.  Here the unwritten rule is NEVER do it (unless it is a vendor help group/list, in which case feel free to use as many flags or keywords as you like – after all it is really a race to see who can get a response first).  Most groups/lists are driven by the community with everyone contributing voluntarily.  To say that your question is Important/Urgent is the equivalent of saying “my question is more important that anything else that has gone before, or is to occur after, this message”, which is clearly not the case and is offensive to everyone else on the group/list.

Another short rule: Be curtious and think of the reader of you email/message!

(PS: Another couple of irritations are where images are included in emails (thankfully my email client strips those off – thanks Microsoft!).  Where this is really irritating is where the images include content and there is no text alternative)

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