The way we communicate online can be even more important than the way we communicate face-to-face, particularly in the workplace, because we don’t have in-person cues such as facial expression, body language and tone of voice to rely on. And email and other content on the Internet are seldom destroyed; rather they tend to live on in perpetuity on a device or server somewhere, unlike a hard copy. This means once you’ve sent an email, odds are that message is going to last forever. Knowing that emails never really disappear should be enough to prompt us to up our game, but good email etiquette among professionals is a skill that tends to get overlooked until something goes wrong.
If you need more convincing, consider that a well-written email fosters a positive impression with potential employers, your company’s leaders, colleagues, industry contacts, customers and potential clients. As a rule of thumb, an email message that abides by good etiquette is one that is considerate of the recipient’s time, is clear and politely expresses your message with a respectful tone. Writing such an email is easier to accomplish by following the tips we’ve outlined below.
Best practices for professional email etiquette:
1. Use a professional email address
Always use your official email address for your work-related communications. In the case of self-employment, it is strongly recommended to set up a designated professional email address rather than use a personal one. A professional email address boosts the level of trust people have in your communications because they know exactly who is sending the message.
2. Use a clear, concise subject line
Assign a subject line to your email that quickly lets the recipient know what the email is about before reading it.
3. Use standard formatting and fonts
Stick with classic fonts, colors and size. Use standard fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri in black and with up to 12-point font size. Apply bold and italics sparingly, and avoid using them on more than one word or a string of words. In addition, use sentence case when you’re sending an official email, capitalizing the first word of every sentence and proper nouns.
4. Add an introduction when appropriate
It is a good practice to introduce yourself by first and last name as well as your company in the first few sentences when emailing new contacts, potential customers, clients or employers.
5. Use a professional greeting
Pick a salutation that is suitable for the connection you have with the receiver. When sending an email to a co-worker, a casual greeting such as “Hello” may be appropriate. But if you’re contacting somebody for the first time or if they are not an official acquaintance, use a formal greeting such as “Dear /Ms/ Mr.”
6. Be mindful about using “Reply All”
The advantage of using “Reply all” is that you can respond to everyone at once to communicate or to let them know about an issue. But when in doubt, it’s best to choose only “Reply” to avoid inundating a list of people with unnecessary email.
7. Be considerate when sending attachments
Keep information in the email body whenever possible rather than attaching a document in order to minimize data for the recipient. When an attachment is necessary, inform the recipient in the email about the included document or file. When sending several attachments, compress or zip the attachments to take up less space in the recipient’s inbox and email storage.
Ensure correct spelling and grammar in your email before sending it. Be especially mindful that you have spelled people’s names correctly. As soon as you finish writing an email, review to make sure the copy is free of errors.
9. Do not use emojis
Avoid using emojis altogether unless the recipient has used them in the past when communicating with you. But emojis can be easily misinterpreted in a business situation, so it is best to avoid them.
10. Keep it positive
Be careful to maintain a positive tone in business correspondence as the format lacks the assistance of facial expressions and tone of voice. Be mindful of your words and how your email may come across or be interpreted.
11. Verify the recipient’s name and email address
Always make sure the recipient’s name and email address are correct before hitting the send button. If you have any uncertainty, double-check their LinkedIn profile or look at how they have signed off on previous emails. Be alert, as sometimes the autocorrect function mistakenly changes name spellings.
12. Use bcc correctly
Bcc, which stands for blind carbon copy, is similar to cc except that the bcc email address is concealed from the other recipients. Use of bcc is good etiquette if you want to protect someone’s email address from being exposed to other recipients.
13. Use an email signature
A classic email signature normally includes only your name, job title/designation, company name and a phone number where you can be reached. If you are self-employed, you may also include your company’s logo or your photo. It is also important to ensure that your email has a mobile or device-friendly interface setting that can adjust accordingly.
14. Use informative autoreplies
Enabling an automated reply to inform colleagues that you received their email is good etiquette; it acts as acknowledgment. Incorporate a contact that the individual can reach in the case of an urgent matter. Write your subject line in a way that communicates quickly to recipients that they’ve received an automated reply.
15. Be considerate about time
If you’re sending an email, consider that you are taking up the recipient’s time by having them read your message. It can be overwhelming to see a flooded inbox amid a busy schedule, and it is not always feasible to respond to emails instantly. A suitable response window depends on a person’s individual choice, but it is generally good practice to reply within 24 hours or a maximum of 48 hours. Also, be mindful of normal business hours— typically the safest time to assume a business contact is available is 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday. Try to match your email’s delivery timing with the recipient's work schedule as odd-hour communications may not feel appropriate to the recipient.