12 Tips on Email Etiquette

See also: Good Email Etiquette

In the digital age, where instant communication rules our lives and it’s almost impossible to escape the reach and allure of the internet, it’s easy to find yourself getting an email, clicking ‘reply’, typing a quick response, and hitting ‘send’ without much thought.

Unfortunately doing exactly that has the potential to lead to embarrassing mistakes that could be detrimental to your professional relationships and career.

What makes things worse is that the average office worker spends up to 28% of their week replying to and sending emails: with the amount of time the average person spends emailing it’s hard to grasp why a huge portion of professionals don’t know the basics of email etiquette.

1. A Clear Subject Line

One of the most important parts of an email, if not the most important part of your email depending on your job or who you are emailing, is the subject line.

When reaching out to new contacts or clients, the subject line will denote whether a person will or will not open an email. Not only that but you will want your email to stand out in an inbox full of other emails. When dealing with colleagues, it’s best to signal to the reader that you’re addressing their concerns or business issues.

2. Careful Which ‘Reply’ You Use

When deciding between ‘Reply’ or ‘Reply All’, it’s best to think about whether the list of recipients really needs to know how you’ve been?

It’s best to think carefully whether your reply really needs to be sent to the entire group, or just to the sender.

3. The Use of Professional Salutations

When sending a professional email it’s best to avoid greetings you use around your friends.

Introducing yourself with ‘Hey’ or ‘Yo’ is incredibly informal; it’s not the way to introduce yourself to a fellow colleague or professional and it is doubtful that a client would appreciate opening an email from a professional with such laid back language.

4. Reply To All Your Emails

Emailing back to every email can seem like a chore, but it’s important to try.

This can include emails sent accidentally to you, if only to be nice but it also helps build relationships with colleagues or other professionals.

5. Humour can be Misinterpreted

Humour is great; it helps break the ice when meeting new people, or in awkward situations.

The problem is that it doesn’t have a place unless the directed recipient can see you facial features or hear the tone of your voice. Emails are text based, and I’m sure we’ve all come across situations when texting friends, or family, it’s incredibly difficult to get across emotions by text and this problem only increases tenfold when you introduce other languages into the mix.

In a work place, especially an international work place, it’s best to leave humour out of emails unless you know the recipient well.

See our page on Developing Humour for more about this.

6. Exclamation Points can be a Trap

When using exclamation points or question marks, it’s become normal practise for most to add more exclamation marks onto a sentence.

In conventional English punctuation, a drowning man shouts "Help!".

Repeating the same punctuation only reiterates the same level of enthusiasm adding nothing to the context of the conversation. In some cases it can also cause you to come across as immature or unprofessional; in a working environment it’s generally the best course to avoid this.

For more see our page on Punctuation.

7. Cultures from Around The World Speak and Write Differently

Cultures around the world speak and write in different ways, this can even include how personal an email is, how short and to point it is, or even long the email is.

A lot of western countries are very quick to get to the point, for example Germany or America, while other countries such as Japan like to be more personal and find out about the person before getting down to business.

See our page on Intercultural Communication for more.

8. Use a Professional Email Address

This one should be obvious, generally if you work for a company you’ll have a company email address which is generally your name plus the company domain.

However if you are self-employed, or using email for work-related subjects, it’s best to use generic addresses or use your name.

9. Avoid Slang, Emoticons or Text Speak

In a workplace a professional should never use slang, short-cuts for words or text-speech.

The use of these will only cause you to come across as immature and unprofessional, and when dealing with business related correspondence it’s completely unacceptable.

10. High Priority Option

Using this option more than necessary can be incredibly annoying, which turns into a problem when, in the future, you do have high priority emails to send out and people won’t take your emails seriously.

11. Short, to the Point Emails

People find reading large clumps of text pretty difficult, especially in a culture where anything you want is practically at your fingertips.

It is best practice to keep your messages to the point, and well broken up where necessary (bullet points work brilliantly). Just avoid situations where the recipient has to dig through paragraphs of text in order to figure out what you are trying to ask them.

12. Check You’ve Selected the Correct Recipient

Some companies have thousands of employees, which means it’s best to make sure you are sending your email to the correct person.

It would be rather unfortunate to try to send an email to a friend at work, only for it to be sent to your manager instead. This is also why it’s best to avoid personal chat on work emails: you never know when management could look through your emails.

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