New FDA Internal Email Policy Seeks to Confront a Common Problem: 'Reply-All' Emails

Posted 22 May 2013 | By Alexander Gaffney, RAC 

Emails sent by drug regulators working for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are about to get a bit more standardized and a bit less annoying, according to a new internal staff policy posted to the agency's website on 21 May 2013.

The policy, Email Best Practices, is part of an extensive manual of policies and procedures (MAPP) published by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) and intended to set expectations for proper behavior and practices by regulatory staff.

In the case of the aforementioned policy, that includes how FDA staff communicate with one another via email as well. At the core of the policy is a credo: "CDER staff will write emails that are professional, effective and efficient." The memo goes on to note that emails should also refrain from being political, and that their emails-like all government emails-are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Despite the policy being targeted toward internal emails, the basic practices could stand to benefit industry as well if good habits proliferate.

Do's and Don'ts

Other parts of the policy are meant to make emails easier to read. For example, staff are advised to spell out the entire term of an acronym the first time it is used in order to prevent confusion unless such acronyms are "commonly known."

Staff are also advised to use "Out of the Office" replies using their email system to inform anyone emailing them that they will be less than prompt in replying to their inquiry or message.

The policy goes on to list a number of qualities that emails should and should not possess, including:

  • Should have clear, specific subject lines.
  • Should be easy to read with minimum size 10 font (preferably 12) in black with a white background.
  • Should be short and to the point, or with section headers or bullet-points.
  • Should be proof-read for spelling errors, working links and other problems.
  • Should be an appropriate "virtual tone" to avoid being perceived as aggressive or offensive.
  • Should be appropriately used, as sometimes in-person contact is more appropriate than email
  • Should include an email signature with contact information.
  • Should not include attachments larger than 1 MB as it slows down the FDA email system.
  • Should not use "unnecessary" graphics or colors in the email (though highlighting for emphasis is appropriate).
  • Should not have a "Read receipt" for every message sent, as it can "become annoying or offensive to others."
  • Should not be sent while angry or frustrated.

"Reply All": Bane of Regulators

Other parts of the policy speak to a problem common to-some might say the bane of-many companies: "Reply-all" emails.

"Only authorized CDER staff may disseminate emails Center-wide," the document states. Staff are instructed to never hit "reply all" to a center-wide email, never forward email jokes or chain letters, and avoid using "reply all" responses like "thanks" or, "Please don't reply to all."

MAPP 4515.1: Email Best Practices

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