Regardless of your industry or profession, you will likely rely on email as a primary communication tool. Email is one of the fastest and most effective ways to relay messages to your colleagues and clients, and practicing proper email etiquette can showcase your communication skills as well as improve your professional reputation.
What Is Email Etiquette?
Email etiquette is defined by Grammarly as the set of social norms that help ensure professionals engage in email conversation that is both considerate and productive. Although specific email standards may vary from one industry to the next, there is a set of general email etiquette guidelines that encompass any type of electronic professional communication.
Why Is Email Etiquette Important?
While email etiquette may evolve and change over time, it’s important to be aware of these social norms and follow them accordingly. According to Indeed, the emails you send have a significant impact on how you are perceived as a professional, and following the rules of email etiquette means other professionals respect you and take you seriously. In addition, by composing polite and concise emails, you showcase your commitment to productivity and efficiency.
1. Choose a Descriptive Subject Line
Professionals in today’s global economy are inundated with emails daily, and they must spend a large number of working hours sifting through seemingly endless messages. Recognizing this, it’s essential to craft a subject line that is relevant and informative.
According to Zoho Mail, the best email subject lines are:
For example, if you are reaching out to a contact to see if they are available for an upcoming meeting, an appropriate subject line could be, “Availability Inquiry – Internal Meeting on October 10.”
The subject line you write sets the professional tone for your email and ultimately determines whether the email is opened, so it’s best to be both descriptive and concise.
2. Use a Professional Email Address
Your email address will become a central part of your professional identity, as it is included in your email signature and on branding materials. Most professionals choose a formal email address that incorporates their first and last name, according to Mailmodo. If a combination of your first name, last name or initials is unavailable, you can use one or two numbers to differentiate your address. However, it’s best to leave nicknames, funny sayings, screen names or symbols out of your email address.
3. Reply Promptly
Across all industries, professionals expect email communication to be a fast and efficient way to conduct business and discuss important topics. Therefore, a prompt reply is ideal in most cases. Email etiquette generally requires an attempt to reply to any email you receive within 24 hours. In the event you are unable to reply within one business day, it’s courteous to acknowledge and apologize for the delay in response.
Correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are expected within any email communication — making proofreading critical. After drafting an email, be sure to take a few moments to read over the message and confirm there are no inadvertent mistakes. In addition, review any names and titles you have included in the email to make sure they are accurate and spelled correctly.
5. Avoid Using Slang or Emojis
While email communication has become less formal over the past several years, it’s still necessary to maintain some sense of decorum when drafting a professional email. It is best to avoid slang terms and swear words when drafting a professional email.
As far as using emojis, you probably want to avoid including those cute little smiley faces in your messages until you have a better idea of the culture at your workplace. The number of professionals using emojis in their email messages is on the rise, with about 45 percent of survey respondents saying it is now socially acceptable to use emojis in work emails. If it seems like your colleagues or professional contacts are using emojis at appropriate times, feel free to join in on the fun; just try not to overuse the graphic icons.
6. Address the Recipient Appropriately
Although an email message may be less formal than a business letter, it’s still crucial to address recipients with the respect they deserve. The best way to address an email recipient is to:
- Be mindful of the professional tone of the email. For a contact with whom you are unfamiliar, a more formal greeting may be necessary. For a colleague with whom you work frequently, you can be more casual.
- Choose a salutation that fits the situation. Beginning an email with “Dear,” is both formal and polite and is commonly used in professional emails. For a more casual email, you may opt for “Hello,” or “Hi.”
- Include the recipient’s title, name and a comma. For instance, a formal email should begin as, “Dear Mrs. Smith,” and then move on to the email content.
7. Be Conscious of the “Reply All” Function
Often, emails may include a variety of recipients of the same message. However, if you feel the need to respond to an email with multiple recipients, it is key to consider whether it’s necessary to “reply all.” When you select “reply all,” your response will go to everyone on the list, which could add extra, unnecessary emails to their inbox. In most cases, it’s best to reply directly to the original sender.
8. Be Wary of Excessive Exclamation Points
The punctuation you use within an email message has a significant impact on how it is read and perceived by the recipient. Some professionals inadvertently rely too heavily on exclamation points as a way to seem polite — without realizing they are ending nearly every sentence with one. If you use exclamation points too frequently, they begin to lose their value and impact and can make you seem eager or overexcited. It may even cause some professionals to feel you are immature or lack experience in the workplace.
9. Consider the Timing
Some business professionals (especially those in leadership roles) check their emails at all times of the day and even on the weekends. Knowing this, try to only send emails during business hours, particularly if the messages relate to routine business or daily tasks. Only send urgent messages during the evening hours or on the weekends, and indicate “Urgent” in the subject line to convey the importance of the message.
10. Don’t Use Email for Sensitive Information
Most corporations and companies retain email messages on their servers for months and years, even after a message is deleted from your inbox. It’s crucial to remain aware of this as you craft your messages and to avoid sending confidential information or sensitive material in an email. If you need to discuss something privately, it’s best to schedule an in-person meeting or, at a minimum, address it over the phone.
11. Keep It Concise
Knowing that busy professionals spend a large portion of their day reading emails, you should strive to craft clear and concise messages. According to Drip, it is best to keep emails between 75 and 100 words, which amounts to one or two short paragraphs. Only address one issue within the email, and avoid adding unnecessary information that could potentially waste the recipient’s time.
Consider following the 12-second rule when it comes to writing an email. The 12-second rule helps you craft an email that gets to the point within the first 12 seconds, ultimately grabbing the recipient’s attention as they quickly scan the content.
12. Double Check Attachments
When sending an email with an attachment, verify that you have included the attachment before you hit send. Additionally, you want to double-check that you have uploaded the right file in order to avoid confusion or disruption.
13. Avoid Using All Caps
Sometimes, writing in all capital letters is referred to as “Shouty Capitals” — because seeing WORDS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS feels as if the person who sent the message is yelling. Writing in all caps is not only harsh, but it’s also seen as incredibly unprofessional in today’s advanced digital society.
14. Don’t Share Controversial Topics
Email messages are not private, and they cannot be permanently deleted from an organization’s server. It is absolutely critical that all professionals recognize this and avoid sharing or discussing controversial or untoward topics on email.
15. Keep Your Fonts Simple and Classic
Choosing an unusual, swirly font may seem like a wonderful way to showcase your personality, but there are better choices for professional emails. Generally speaking, standard formatting is preferred in all email communication. Some of the most professional fonts to choose are Helvetica, Arial and Times New Roman. By using 11- or 12-point font, you can help ensure your emails are easy to read, regardless of the recipient’s screen size.
16. Double-Check Your Email Recipients
Prior to hitting the send button, confirm that you have included all the recipients you want to receive your message, and verify that their email addresses are spelled correctly. In addition, make sure you haven’t inadvertently included an unintended recipient on the email.
As you add recipients to your email, consider the Bcc and Cc functions. Cc stands for carbon copy, and anyone who is included on the CC list will be visible to others. Bcc stands for blind carbon copy and allows you to include recipients without sharing their addresses or information with all other recipients on the email list. Sometimes, relying on the Bcc feature is more polite and considerate.
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