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Email Forwarding Etiquette: How Not to Be Annoying to Others

There are several unspoken rules regarding digital communication, and forwarding etiquette is often expected but needs to be better understood. From knowing if someone can see if you forwarded their email, to knowing how to use BCC, we’ll discuss all the facets of email forwarding.

A graphic of an envelope being forwarded with the title "Email Forward Etiquette" above it.

If you’re new to the world of business email etiquette or want to up your game, we’ll help you figure out the dos and don’ts of email forwarding.

Here are the key points to keep in mind:

  • Don’t Forward Hoaxes
  • Don’t Forward Emails to Unwilling Recipients
  • Add a Personal Comment
  • Edit the Email
  • Only Forward to People Who Need It
  • Get Permission Where Applicable
  • Avoid Compromising Others’ Data
  • Avoid Political Conversations Via Email

Can Someone See If You Forwarded Their Email?

Since we are on the topic of email forwarded, let’s first address a common question that comes up often, which is “can someone see if you forwarded their email?”

The answer is  – no. The sender cannot see that you forwarded an email to someone else. This is simply because of how email works. The only way the sender can know that their email was forwarded is if the recipient of your forwarded message informs the original sender.

A graphic of an email being forwarded with the text: "No, the sender cannot see that you forwarded the email to someone else"

Use BCC (Blind Carbon Copy)

If you are emailing a group of people, it is best practice to use BCC or Blind Carbon Copy. This option prevents the exposure of someone’s email address to others on the list without their permission.

If you have a list of friends, family or colleagues that you know would not mind having their email visible to the rest of the group, feel free to use the “To” or the “CC” (Carbon Copy) fields. However, if you have any doubts, BCC is the way to go (you can use your email address for the “TO” section.

Don’t Forward Hoaxes

The world of bizarre email forwards has become a thing of the past, but not because email hoaxes and nonsensical spam have vanished; instead, they’ve just migrated to a new homeland: Facebook. 

That said, you should only forward a random email if someone told you to, especially after reviewing the content of the email. Some people enjoy spreading urban legends, rumors, chain letters, whistleblowing efforts, or “fun” quizzes and tests.

There’s nothing wrong with forwarding something entertaining or funny to a friend or coworker. Still, it’s standard forwarding etiquette not to blast an email to your contacts list letting them know this month has five weeks and signifies good fortune. 

Recipients will not often appreciate them as they quickly become unnecessary clutter in their inboxes and don’t contribute anything most people consider worthy of their time. 

Some of these hoaxes are even malicious attempts to collect data for phishing.

Don’t Forward Emails to Unwilling Recipients

Of course, another natural rule of thumb to follow when forwarding emails is to ensure the people who don’t want to receive forwarded emails are off your recipient list. 

If someone asks you to refrain from forwarding emails, oblige them. Doing so is common courtesy, as that person should be able to monitor what they do or don’t want to arrive in their inbox.

While most businesses or entities that send emails are required to provide an unsubscribe option, your personal emails do not include that option for recipients other than to block you. If they instead request that you not forward emails instead, you should respect their wishes. 

Add a Personal Comment

Adding a little personal touch to a forwarded email is a reasonable courtesy, but it also serves a practical purpose. When people check their emails, they’ll often discount forwarded emails with no relevant information in the subject line

Adding a short line such as, “I’m forwarding you the below email” or “I thought you’d find this interesting” is an excellent way to establish that there’s something worthwhile in the forwarded email. 

If there are valuable documents attached to the forwarded email, make sure to note their importance. 

Similarly, if you need the recipient to respond, add a request to RSVP, such as the following:

  • Please review the below email and get back to me
  • Please RSVP once you’ve read this forwarded email
  • Have a look at the documents on this forwarded email and reply when you have a chance

Adding a short tag to the forwarded email shows the recipient that it’s not spam, so they are less likely to discard it immediately.

Edit the Email

When you need to forward an email, it’s always good to review the information in it to ensure there is no personal information shared from you or the original sender that you should erase. 

Take the extra few minutes to review the original email to ensure that all information is relevant and doesn’t contain sensitive data. It’s bad enough to put your sensitive data at risk, but putting others in danger is another level entirely.

Only Forward to People Who Need It

Before you send out a forwarded email, it’s generally a good idea to make sure it’s only going to people who need the information inside. Otherwise, you are spamming everyone else with irrelevant messages.  

There’s also no need to involve people with no business being there. As well as annoying unrelated recipients, this poses a security risk, especially if the forwarded information is sensitive. 

Briefly scrolling through your forward list to ensure everyone you’re sending it to has involvement (and security clearance for “classified” information) helps with being courteous to others via email.

Get Permission Where Applicable

Can someone view whether you forwarded their email or not? 

The answer is no, but that shouldn’t give you license to forward things to someone else’s detriment or without their permission. Where appropriate, ask the original sender if it’s okay to pass their email on to others.

At the very least, doing so could prevent conflict if they learn that you did and were upset by your unlicensed sharing. 

Avoid Compromising Others’ Data

The most crucial culmination of forwarding etiquette is not revealing the email addresses of your family, friends, and coworkers. It’s too easy to be tempted to forward an email that spreads through thousands of people, revealing their email addresses to anyone on the recipient list.

If you’re not careful, this email thread can result in scammers targeting your account for identity theft. At the very least, you’re likely to have to trash a boatload of additional spam since fraudsters now have access to your email address.

Not only are you at risk with this forwarding faux pas, since anyone getting the email later can see your address, but you also compromise the addresses of anyone you’re forwarding.

Of course, this thinking primarily applies to chain emails, gags, hoaxes, and other nonsensical emails that you might be inclined to forward for fun. If an email chain has hundreds of addresses, it’s likely a sensational hoax aimed at getting access to your email address and contacts.

If you want or need to forward an email address to a long list of people who aren’t connected, then put your name in the To box and cc everyone you’re mailing to. That way, sensitive information isn’t being shared among people who don’t know each other. 

Avoid Political Conversations Via Email

It’s generally not good etiquette to forward an email about political conversations to make a point. No one wins arguments on the internet, and you certainly aren’t going to change anyone’s mind by forwarding them a snippy political statement. 

At best, the recipient will dismiss your email, and at worst, you could jeopardize friendships to prove a point. 

In short, email recipients won’t usually appreciate you pushing your political views on them. If you want to have a political discussion, it’s best to talk with someone face to face so that you can understand their arguments and have a civil discourse that isn’t rooted in shallow platitudes.

The Bottom Line

Forwarding emails is a valuable tool to spread information or share amusing content with others, but, unfortunately, many etiquette missteps can make your relatives, family, and coworkers annoyed with you. 

The best rule of thumb when forwarding an email is to ask yourself whether it’s necessary to send it, who needs to receive it, whether it is appropriate for the sender, and if you are putting the recipient’s security at risk. 

If in doubt, err on the side of caution and either don’t send it or ask their permission first.


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By James Smith

Described as an "English Guru," James Smith holds a Master's degree in English from Arkansas Tech University, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a minor in ESL. James is a sought after writer and editor with university teaching experience.

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