As email takes up to 28% average professional's time, people often overlook email etiquette in the name of productivity. However, there're a set of rules and tips to follow in business emails no matter how busy you're. In fact, proper email etiquette won't only allow you to maintain professionalism, but it can also make your communication more effective and help the business avoid costly mistakes.
What is email etiquette?
Email etiquette means the principles that guide our behavior when sending and receiving emails. This code of conduct includes guidelines regarding appropriate language, spelling, grammar, and manners. The proper etiquette depends on whom you are emailing. In the workplace, it's always safer to err on the formal side of these conventions.
Why is email etiquette important?
Adhering to the etiquette will help you establish professionalism, build stronger relationships in the workplace and represent your employer well. It'll also make communications more efficient and prevent you and the business from getting into trouble. Familiarizing yourself with professional email etiquette will help you communicate respectfully with others and succeed in your career.
1. Write a clear subject line
As many of us are constantly buried in our inboxes, the subject line can have a significant impact on whether your email gets opened or not.
Aim for a clear and short subject line that describes what your email is about in a couple of words or a concise sentence. Use identifiers such as "proposal" and "application" that immediately tell the recipient explicitly what to expect from your email. Subject lines that provide utility are more likely to get read, so keep it practical.
Whatever you do, never send an email without a subject line. It's a clear violation of proper email etiquette. Seeing the "No subject" almost guarantees that the recipient will move your message straight to the trash as it seems suspicious.
2. Start with a professional greeting
The best way to greet a person in an email always depends on your relationship with them and the subject matter. The appropriate way to start an email professionally varies from formal to casual, but you should never come across informal.
Some of the most common greetings include:
- Dear Ms./Mrs./Mr. <Last name>,
- Hello <First name>,
- Hi <First name>,
The list of informal greetings that count as bad etiquette ranges from "Heya" and "Yo" to just the recipient's name.
3. Don't forget to introduce yourself
You shouldn't ever assume that the recipient knows who you are. Especially if you contact someone you don't know for the first time, it's good etiquette to start your email's body with a brief introduction – a short line or two covering relevant information will do. If you know the recipient but you're not quite sure whether your name rings a bell to them, find a way to mention the last time you talked or remind them how you know each other.
4. Keep it short
As an average office worker receives well over 100 emails a day, no one has time to read lengthy messages.
The worst thing you can do is make the recipient skim through the whole email to find out what your message is even about. Instead, you should be upfront about your email's purpose by stating it in the very beginning. Make your point fast, don't be wordy, and use short sentences that read well. Ideally, your email only has one goal, but if you need to cover different topics, consider condense them to bullet points.
When you think you are done, take time to edit your message to ensure it's clear and delete all the unnecessary words. If you still think it's too long, consider if there's a better channel than email to communicate about the topic.
5. Refrain from humor
Without the right tone and expression to accompany them, even the most hilarious punchlines can land miles away from their target.
That's why humor often gets lost in translation in an email. Sarcasm is especially dangerous in written format, as the reader can literally interpret you meaning the opposite you just said. Unless you are really tight with the recipient, you should shy away from joking in a professional email.
It's not even about the risk of being misunderstood – what you find funny is not necessarily funny to the recipient.
6. Structure the email properly
A professional email should include a subject line, greeting, body, sign-off, and signature. You should always separate these parts with paragraph breaks to make your message easily digestible.
Aim to deliver your message so that the email body is no longer than three paragraphs. As people tend to "scan" emails looking for something interesting to dive into instead of reading them word-by-word, start each paragraph by highlighting the most important thing. Remember also to leave an empty line between the paragraphs to improve readability.
In case you feel the risk of information overload, consider using bullet point or numbered lists to bring more structure to your writing, break up wordy sections. If you use bold to highlight what's most important, never use it for more than one word or phrase per email.
7. Use sentence case
Using a sentence case means capitalizing the first letter of the first word in a sentence and any proper nouns.
Using capital letters in a conventional way is part of business email etiquette, so you shouldn't foray from it. Remember that writing in all caps at work is also considered a faux pas.
8. Watch your tone
It's not just what you say but how you say it.
Be intentional with your word choices and always consider how the recipient might interpret them. As you can't rely on facial expressions and intonation to deliver the message, make an extra effort to come across as positive.
In addition to refraining from humor, don't use negative words and adjectives that can make you seem more emotional than you actually are.
9. Write like nothing is confidential
Keep away from discussing sensitive topics or confidential information over email as they can get into the wrong hands notoriously easily. No matter who the recipient is, you shouldn't trust that they're the only person who'll see your email as a leak can be just a matter of accidental forward or CC. It's always better to be safe than sorry, so a good guideline is not to write an email you wouldn't want the whole world to read.
10. Spare the exclamation points!!!
You surely don't shout that often at work, right? That's why you should be mindful when using exclamation points in business emails. The only real reason to use one is to express excitement – and that never requires more than an exclamation point. Using more than one per email can make you appear unprofessional, not even to mention ending a sentence with a number of them.
11. Be aware of cultural differences
Miscommunication can easily happen due to cultural differences.
The risk is even greater in written words as there's no body language to accompany the message. That's why you should try to familiarize yourself with the recipient's culture when you are emailing someone abroad. Accommodating their preferences will help you to build stronger relationships with them.
In some countries, it's preferred to go straight to the point. In contrast, in others, it's customary to get to know the new business associate first. You can start to master these nuances by reading this article by BBC.
12. Don't use emojis
Even though emojis play a big role in our daily communications when it comes to instant messaging, they don't belong to professional emails. Why might you ask? The research found that using smileys can make you seem less competent, not to mention that everyone interprets them differently. Unless the recipient has used emojis while emailing you before, you should steer clear of them
13. Shorten the URLs
Pasting long URLs into your email is a surefire way to make it look messy. In addition to making your message harder to read, they take up valuable real estate. What you should do is to use a URL shortener such as bit.ly or insert a hyperlink instead.
14. Stick to standard fonts
You always want your emails to be easy to read, right? It all starts with a clean font. As a cardinal rule, use the standard font of your email client.
Some of the best fonts for email include:
- Times New Roman
When it comes to the colour of the font, black is the only choice. The right size is either 10-point or 12-point, depending on the length of your email. In case you copy and paste text to your email, remember to clear the formatting, or it might appear different than the rest of the message.
15. Use a professional sign-off
The best way to sign off an email always depends on your relationship with the recipient and your email's purpose. You should match the sign-off with the greeting and the rest of your message to maintain a consistent tone. You want always to be polite, but do you want to come across as more formal or friendly?
Some of the most popular professional email closings include:
- Kind regards,
- Thank you,
It's important to get the sign-off right. It's the last thing that the recipient reads and can leave a lasting impression similar to the conclusion of a meeting or the end of a phone call.
16. Add a signature
Less is more when it comes to email signatures.
Professional signature includes your full name, title, company name, company website, and phone number to reach you. You can consider throwing in company LinkedIn and street addresses if those play a role in your business. The company logo or your picture passes the etiquette also. However, make sure that the design is responsive.
You should set it to appear automatically at the end of each email – it's easier to delete it from a message than to add it manually.
17. Always double-check the recipient's name
Nothing makes a first impression like misspelling a person's name – or addressing them by the wrong name altogether.
It will literally take seconds, and you've no excuse for getting it wrong. In addition to avoiding these careless errors, make sure not to shorten the name unless you are sure that Robert from the legal department really prefers to go by "Rob".
If there are any doubts about this topic, look at how they have signed off their previous emails to you, check their LinkedIn profile or internal communications channels.
18. Never send an email without proofreading it
This email etiquette tip can't be stressed enough as misspellings, and grammatical errors will inevitably reflect poorly on you. After you've finished writing, go through the email body and the subject line at least twice to catch any mistakes. You can also try reading your email out loud to notice mistakes your eyes didn't catch.
19. Be mindful with attachments
The most important email etiquette rule regarding attachments is that you shouldn't attach large files to your emails. The best way to send, for example, a presentation or video is to upload the file to a cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox and provide the recipient with a link that allows them to access it. If that's not possible, make sure to compress the file before attaching it so that it'll take less space in their inbox. Remember also to mention the attachment in your email body to make sure that the recipient notices it.
20. BCC appropriately
BCC stands for blind carbon copy, and it allows you to conceal the person or people entered in the BCC field from the other recipients.
Using BCC is good email etiquette when you email several people who don't know each other as it allows you to protect their privacy. It's also used to remove someone politely from a thread, for example, after they've introduced you to someone else over email. It can also come in handy when you need to confirm to someone that you've sent an important email without including the person in the following thread.
Blind carbon copy can also be abused, and using it for the wrong reasons is considered deceptive.
21. Give timely responses
Email can be a huge time suck for any professional, but responding to your emails promptly helps keep everyone's work on schedule.
The appropriate response window depends on the sender and subject matter. As a rule of thumb, you should respond to your teammates during the same day, other colleagues within 24 hours, and for people outside your organization by the end of the workweek unless it's urgent.
Especially if you work in a customer-facing role, you should know that your long response time can send an unintentional message as nearly a third of people expect businesses to respond to emails in one hour or less.
22. Use "Reply all" only when necessary
As an average office worker receives around 121 emails a day, you don't want to bother people with anything unnecessary. So, the next time you're about to press "Reply all" stop to consider whether everyone in the email chain needs to receive your answer. If the answer is no, use "Reply" and save casualties from yet another distracting notification.
23. Respond to all your emails
Despite the flooding inbox and hectic schedule, it's good email etiquette to respond to every email addressed to you. Ignoring an email from someone within your organization or business associate is rude and will likely have consequences. If someone cold emails you, spare a second to give them an answer even if it would be a polite "no", as it will leave a good impression. If they weren't considerate enough to do their homework, don't feel obligated to answer.
24. Think twice before forwarding
Remember what we wrote earlier about sensitive topics and confidential information? You should always consider if the email is meant to be forwarded and proceed with caution. Also, consider if the message actually creates any value to the recipient. When you do decide to forward an email, it's important to summarize what's been discussed and let the recipient know what's needed from them. You should also edit anything unnecessary out of the email, such as forwarding signs, other email addresses, subject lines, and previous commentary.
25. Remember to set out-of-office replies
If you are unavailable to answer your emails for extended periods of time, you should set up an automated out-of-office message that lets people know you can't respond to them. Typical situations include holidays and conferences. It's important to include a specific date when you'll be back so that they can proceed accordingly. You should also provide the contact information of a person the sender can reach out if their matter is urgent. It's best practice to include the "Out of Office" or "identifier in the subject line along with the date of your return.
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