Email etiquette is important because it is our primary method of communication. We send emails to place orders, answer questions, ask questions, inform, entertain, and promote.
If a client’s first impression of a company is a written one, make sure it is good. The way we answer our telephone, the way we conduct ourselves in a meeting, and the way we write sends a message.
If you work for a company and there is a style guide in place, you should familiarise yourself with its email guidelines.
25 Email Etiquette Guidelines
- Keep separate email accounts for separate uses. Leave your work email address for work. Keep another for personal use.
- Check communications daily. Set aside time to do this. It is a good idea to do this three times in your working day. Respond to all your mails so that they do not pile up in your inbox.
- Follow general etiquette. Email is the same as a phone call. It is personal. You should be polite and reasonable – even if you are angry. If you are so angry that you cannot be polite, it is a good idea to wait. Avoid sending emotional emails.
- Explain acronyms. If you use an abbreviation, you should give an explanation. [Read 7 Rules for Acronyms]
- Avoid emoticons. It is tempting to 😀 <grin> at the recipient, but it is preferable to write that you are glad that everything worked well.
- Be consistent. Do not use ‘land’, ‘arrive’ and ‘log-on’ just for variety. They have different meanings and you will confuse your readers.
- Avoid caps lock. DO NOT WRITE THE ENTIRE DOCUMENT IN UPPERCASE – it is rude. It is the equivalent of shouting. It is also not as easy to read as it looks.
- Avoid !!! Terry Pratchett wrote that multiple exclamation marks are a ‘sure sign of a diseased mind’. Using too many makes them ineffective anyway.
- Clients are not your friends. Do not forward jokes, poems, warnings, and chain letters to clients. They will delete them, and feel that you have crossed a line.
- Avoid profanity. Swearing is never an option. Profanity always looks worse when it is in writing.
- Email is immediate. Reply to emails as soon as possible. The rule is to try to reply on the same day.
- Answer all the questions asked. Anticipate questions, and answer those as well. Keep outgoing emails down to one or two questions. If you receive the same queries, keep a copy of the usual response in your drafts folder. Use it when you reply.
- Reply to all? If there is more than one recipient, decide if the reply must be sent to them as well.
- To: Check email addresses. You may have used the incorrect one and sent the wrong information to the wrong person. This is harmless if it is our dad, embarrassing if it is our boss, and lethal if it is another customer.
- CC: CC means carbon copy. For multiple recipients who know each other, use the TO field for the main person, and the CC field for the other interested parties.
- BCC: BCC means blind carbon copy. For an email that is going to people with a common purpose, for example, all the delegates in a class, use the BCC field. This ensures that everybody receives the message and that their email addresses remain private.
- Use good subject lines. A clear subject line indicates the reason for the email and it prevents our email being deleted as spam. Our emails will be blocked or end up in the junk file if we use a random selection of acronyms, numbers and provocative words.
- Greetings. Emails are not as formal as a letter, but ‘Yo’ and ‘Hey’ are not appropriate. A little respect goes a long way. We should use the recipient’s name or surname, and make sure we spell it correctly. Example: Dear Susan or Dear Miss Jones
- Check it. Take time to edit an email. If the recipient is querying an earlier email, delete the irrelevant parts. Then focus on their question.
- The closing line. This should leave a favourable impression. Example: Please let me know if you need anything else.
- Salutations. Use an appropriate salutation. We recommend ‘Kind regards’.
- Signing off. It is polite to include your name at the end of the email. The reader can see your title, if applicable, and the correct spelling of your name.
- Apply good writing practices. Standard grammar and spelling rules apply to emails. Set up your email to use a spellchecker. Check grammar and style. [Read 5 Fool Proof Ways To Write Better Emails]
- Attachments. If you are sending an attachment, make sure you attach it. Remember that most servers block images, links and zip files. Most companies block attachments over 1MB, unless otherwise specified. Keep the attachment size as small as possible, and only send if necessary.
- Keep it simple. Never underestimate the power of simplicity. The best emails are clear – without colours, background pictures, BOLD, italics, and underlining.
If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme.
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