Civilian Email TTPs

Civilian Email TTPs

No one says “Can I get that on digits” when asking for something to be sent digitally.

When I started my first position in the “real Army,” I was a part of the intelligence shop at the brigade level. Besides dealing with the crap that comes from being the lowest man on the totem pole — was the only second lieutenant — I had to deal with an onslaught of email.

While you won’t have to deal with OPORDs, daily tasking orders or the inevitable back and forth that goes into trying to get an award approved for a departing service member, the civilian world is just as email dependent.

You just have to look at Dilbert or The Cooper Review to see that many of the pain points are similar to the military’s (along with email avalanches, death by Powerpoint exists in the corporate world too).

We highlighted some of the key phrases and organizational differences between how you use email now versus when you were serving:

Your Intro

Now this may be obvious, but I want to cover all bases: Don’t use “Sir” or “Ma’am” as a greeting. Most of the time, a Mr. or Ms. will do, in many cases, using the first name is more than OK. It depends on who you’re sending an email to, but always err on the side of polite if it’s to a hiring manager. Once they respond and sign off using a first name, you’re in the clear. Easy and acceptable salutations include:

Hi [Name]
Good morning [Name]
Hello [Name]

You do want to steer clear of the outdated and overly formal “To Whom This May Concern.” Use that, and you risk being labeled as spam, out-of-touch, or laughably ignorant of modern email customs.

Crafting Subject Lines and Deciphering Common Symbols

Keep your subject line as descriptive and clear as possible. I feel like you might be thinking, “Duh,” but so many people don’t do this! With no mission names or long UNCLASSIFIEDs to hide behind in your subject line, you have much more space to be clear and helpful. Just make sure your subject line gives the receiver a clear idea of what the message contains.

One note while I’m talking about subject lines: When I started my first civilian job post-Army, my boss scheduled meetings for me using the following symbols, <>><<>. It took me a minute, but it was an indication of who was connecting to whom. For example, I’d see Kevin<>Nina, to indicate that she was introducing us. Or, it’d be a one way, as in Nina>>Lori, as in for me to call him. While that might just be that particular startup’s TTP, you might notice something similar at your new job. If it’s anything that doesn’t make sense, it’s always better to ask sooner, rather than months later down the line.

Civilian Jargon

Some quick lessons I learned in the first week of working in a civilian office: No one says “Can I get that on digits” when asking for something to be sent digitally. Instead, you’ll probably hear “Can you loop me in?” or simply, “Can you email me that?” If you need more decoding, take a look at this guide to office lingo.

Your Sign Off

Again, like your greeting, it’s probably obvious to most, but using “Very Respectfully,” “Respectfully,” or “V/R” is just not a thing to the world outside the military. Choose one of the following instead (or make your own tasteful decision):

Have a good one,


Now, if you’re responding to someone you’ve gone back and forth several times with, and she’s dropped using any sign offs (or greetings), feel free to copy her lead. In many cases, email is used to send short notes back and forth, not to write a formal letter-sounding missive, so it’s perfectly acceptable (and not rude!) to drop your salutations and sign offs.

As for that quote below your signature block (a popular addition by many of my former military senior leaders), delete it. Unless it’s a link to your email, personal website, Twitter, or LinkedIn, you should keep your block clear. While you might think it shows your personality, almost no one uses them nowadays (except marketers and sales people), so you’ll risk looking out-of-touch if you include it.

Don’t Use Email to Share Projects

When I was in an infantry battalion, my section sergeant would send his Excel battle roster spreadsheet each Friday night. Each time any of us made a modification, we’d have to send the new version to everyone who needed it. At the end of my year there, I probably had over 50 versions of the thing.

Don’t do that. Most workplaces use collaborative documents, such as Google Sheets. This means you should put shared information in a shared spot, and try to refrain from using email to go back and forth with a document.