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03.01.2022 Communication

Email etiquette — the dos and don’ts

Email etiquette — the dos and don’ts

Email etiquette is about more than laying some basic ground rules on grammar and punctuation. It helps you and your team communicate more effectively and efficiently. Find out how professional email etiquette can benefit your business.

If you work in a business, you’ve probably heard people complain about their emails filling up their inbox till infinity. Think about it, how often have you opened your work laptop to see the dreaded red circle of unread emails in double (if not triple) digits?

We’ve reached a point of email overload. To put a number to it: estimates are that the average person sends and receives 121 business emails per day.

No wonder email etiquette is often overlooked. Because isn’t productivity and working through your inbox quickly more important than sticking to silly formalities? Well, no.

Proper email etiquette in the workplace is about more than writing grammatically correct. It’s about effectively and efficiently getting your message across in a professional manner. And that’s important for both external and internal communication.

What is email etiquette and why is it important in the workplace?

Email etiquette is the code of conduct for proper, correct, and professional use of your email. Since email is used online its etiquette is sometimes also colloquially referred to as netiquette (a combination of network + etiquette).

Now, how formal your emails need to be will depend on many factors. If you’re messaging a colleague it can be quite casual, while if you’re sending a business proposal to a major client, you’re likely to keep it formal. But either way, you can benefit from sticking to some general email etiquette guidelines that go beyond just grammar and punctuation.

They help you write better emails that get your message across more effectively. But they also help you avoid professional mistakes that can lead to serious consequences. That’s why you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of proper email communication in the workplace.

As such, these email etiquette best practices don’t just include guidelines and handy tips on how to write a proper, professional email. It’s also about how to best use email in the workplace and what specific email features you need to master to become the best at proper email etiquette.

At the end of this article, you will be better at email etiquette. And your colleagues and customers will love you for it. Trust us, in business these basic rules can make all the difference.

10 basic email etiquette tips

Mastering the art of effective email communication in the workplace starts with laying down some ground rules. They ensure you communicate professionally and don’t make mistakes that might damage your professional career.

After these ten email etiquette examples, we’ll also share a few further tips on what to watch out for when using email in business.

1. Leave the beginning till the end

This one is so simple. Yet it has prevented us from accidentally sending emails without attachments or with embarrassing typos more often than we’d like to admit.

Although you might automatically start your email by adding the recipient’s email address we recommend you prepare the entire email message first. Leave the address bar empty until you’re 100% sure the message is ready to go.

This little precaution can save you a lot of time writing follow-up emails with subject lines like “oops I forgot the attachment”.

2. Write short and specific subject lines

Our inboxes are continuously flooded with emails. Some professionals have a clear system in place to use email filters and labels to keep their inboxes clean and tidy. But for most of us, the inbox is a chaotic collection of spam, marketing, client, and internal emails.

Writing a clear subject line helps your recipient to easily understand what the email is about and whether it’s important to them. This is especially important when writing to clients or prospects. It’ll also make it easier for the recipient to find the email again if they want to retrieve it at a later time.

3. Do as you would in person

When you meet someone new you quickly introduce yourself, right? And when you bump into someone you know you’ll open with “hi” and walk away saying “bye”, right?

This is basic social etiquette. And if you want to communicate professionally with someone via email, you should follow the same basic principles for your email etiquette. Start your emails with a more formal ‘Good morning’, e.g. when it’s a client, or an informal ‘Hey Karen!’ when it’s your colleague.

4. Proper email punctuation

Don’t overdo it with the exclamation points!!! And DO PLEASE REMEMBER that most people aren’t fans of excessive capitalisation.

You get the idea. Keep it professional.

5. Avoid (overusing) emojis

In general, emojis are better suited for instant messaging. In internal communication tools like Slack, emojis are part of how you communicate. But in email, especially when writing externally, you tend to be better off keeping emoji usage to a minimum.

The more formal your relationship with the recipient, the fewer emojis you should use.

A screenshot of an email with way too many emojis to explain this is not part of basic email etiquette

6. Consider your email’s tone

Just like with emojis, this depends on the audience you’re writing to. Your tone will be different when writing to your work buddy than when writing to a potential new client.

When writing an email you should first consider who you’re writing to. Adjust your word choice and tone of voice accordingly and always try to use clear and direct language:

  • Instead of saying “please do this task asap” say “could you proofread this copy by Friday?”
  • Instead of saying “please get that report we talked about last week to the right person” say “could you send the Q1 report to Karen today?”

This makes your email communication more effective and ensures you’ll get your point across.

7. Style and structure matter

Aside from the tone of what’s written, you should try to structure and style your email clearly as well.

This goes beyond just adding a greeting and a signature (see below). Try to create short, direct paragraphs and sentences that get to the point as quickly as possible. Where appropriate, use bullets to separate your points more clearly or bold to highlight important information.

This helps your reader skim through the email quicker, saving them precious time. Just think of the collective time your business could save by implementing effective email communication best practices like these…

8. Get to the point

Adobe surveyed 1,002 adults in the U.S. to analyse their email usage. The result showed that, on average, adults spend over 3 hours checking work emails and 2 hours checking personal email every day.

So keep your emails short and to the point. Let’s try to get those numbers down.

9. Reply in a timely manner

Whether this means the same day or the same week depends. But in general, it’s just rude to leave someone hanging for days without a reply. And when it’s a customer, it can lose you their business.

In general, though, email is considered best for asynchronous communication and people mostly don’t expect an instant reply. Whatever timeframes you might want to stick to is up to you. Just ensure you, your team, and your clients are aware of these timeframes so everyone knows what to expect.

For example, you could decide on the following timeframes for your business:

  • Internal emails: reply within 1 working day
  • External emails (non-urgent): reply within 4 working hours
  • External emails (urgent): reply within 1 working hour

10. Mention added attachments

You might think it’s obvious and people will see your attachment. But think again of how busy people are and how quickly they try to scan through their emails.

It’s good email etiquette to mention added attachments to ensure they got the memo.

Woman sitting at a desk typing on her laptop, representing the concept of proper email netiquette
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

5 technical tips on email etiquette

Email etiquette goes beyond the rules of writing properly. It’s also about making the best (and correct) use of email’s technical features and functions.

Here are five more tips to improve your email communication in the workplace.

1. Add an email signature

It’s incredibly easy to set up and it just makes your emails look so much more professional.

Whether you use Gmail, Outlook, or something else, all the large email providers allow you to add custom signatures to every email you send. You can even create multiple signatures that you can switch between, depending on who you’re emailing.

2. Use To, Cc, and Bcc appropriately

When sending an email you have three places where you can add the email addresses of recipients. Using them correctly isn’t only important to prevent confusion. It also ensures you don’t accidentally share someone’s email with others without their permission, thus violating their privacy.

When sending an email to a large list of external recipients using the wrong setting can lead to serious professional and even legal repercussions.

In short, the three fields and which recipients to add in them are:

  • To

The main recipient(s) of your email.

  • Cc

People who will benefit from receiving a copy of the email, but the content of the email is generally not addressed to them. Email addresses in Cc are visible to everyone receiving the email.

  • Bcc

The B stands for blind. Any email address added to this field will receive the email, but the other recipients won’t see this email address. This is particularly useful when sending an email to a large number of people at once.

For example, you can use the Bcc function to send a generic rejection email to several applicants to a job opening at once, saving you a lot of time (or use JOIN, of course!).

Beware, though, in cases like this that you don’t accidentally use Cc instead of Bcc. You might end up sharing confidential information and angry recipients might take legal action because of it.

3. Use “Reply All” sparingly

If you receive an email that was sent to several people you have the option to either “Reply” or “Reply All”.

The first means you reply to one person who sent the email. If the email is part of a longer email thread, “Reply” means you reply to the person who sent the last email in the thread.

The second means you reply to every person included in the email or email thread.

Be mindful of when you use which, especially “Reply All”, as you might be sending unnecessary emails that clog up people’s inboxes.

If you just want to thank the person sending the email, use “Reply”. If you found the solution to the problem that the entire email thread is about, then use “Reply All”.

4. Don’t misuse auto-replies

In most email providers you can create automatic response templates that you can use to quickly reply to repetitive emails.

You can even turn them into fully automated replies. For example, you could have an auto-reply saying that you will respond to the email within 24 hours. How to set it up depends on your provider, but most offer this functionality. For example, this is how you set up an auto-reply in Gmail.

Although auto-replies can be great time savers you shouldn’t use them for everything as they can be impersonal and make you seem disengaged. It’s also important to regularly check if the actual content of your auto-reply is still correct and up to date.

5. Set out-of-office replies

Lastly, one particularly useful auto-reply is the out-of-office. You should always remember to set an out-of-office (OOO) when you are on annual leave or even away for the afternoon.

It lets the sender know that you’re not available so they’re not unnecessarily waiting for your reply. A proper OOO also includes information about who the sender can contact in case of an emergency during your absence. Remembering to set your out-of-office is an important email etiquette best practice.

Do you want more tips on how to improve your email and inbox skills? Then check out these email organization best practices.

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