12 tips to perfect your email etiquette

A quick refresher on how to keep your emails considerate, constructive and professional.

I wonder how many of us remember life without email. I have a vague recollection of waiting impatiently for letters to arrive. Sometimes it took days, if not longer.

That’s no longer the reality. In our culture of instant gratification we expect instant answers and responses. It’s no wonder our email interactions are a big part of our lives, both personal and professional.

Email is here to stay. That’s why it’s important to remember the rules of proper email etiquette.

1. When in doubt, leave it out.

People can misunderstand words and use them against you. Once an email is out there, you can’t take it back. If you are worried someone will see or read it, do yourself a favor and don’t send it. Call the person instead.

2. BCC will come back to bite you.

In most scenarios, using BCC is kind of like talking about a person behind his or her back. It’s not cool in real life, and definitely not cool in an email. It will probably come back to haunt you in one way or another.

When is it OK to use BCC? When you send an email to a group but don’t want everyone to be able to see everyone else’s email addresses. In that situation though, I urge you to think twice and make sure everyone you will send the email to really wants to get it.

It’s also OK to use BCC to save emails to a customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

3. Use spell check.

Nothing says unprofessional the way an email with spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes does. Take a few seconds and use spell check.

4. When you forward emails, erase the original sender’s information.

When you forward an email, the original sender’s email address and name will show up. Make sure you erase those lines before you forward any email.

5. Acknowledge emails.

Make sure you acknowledge you received an email, especially if it has important information, a question, or a request. A short “thanks” or “got it” will suffice.

6. Don’t send offensive emails.

Think of opening an email like opening your front door. If I opened the front door and some of the offensive emails I receive bombarded me, I would probably call the police.

Be careful with the emails you send, both to protect your own reputation and to respect the person receiving it. This is especially true when you email from a business account or for work. Again, once you send an email, you can’t take it back.

7. Write a good subject line.

The subject line is the first thing a person sees (aside from the sender) and will often help determine if and how fast the person opens the email. A good subject line also makes it easier for someone to find the email again later.

8. Avoid attachments.

Don’t send attachments unless you can’t help it. Sending something as an attachment dramatically lowers the probability that a person will ever open it and see the content. Instead, copy and paste the attachment into the body of the email.

If you do need to send an attachment and you know the person is OK with receiving it, make sure you put big attachments in a zip file.

9. Don’t use capital letters.

It sounds ANGRY and RUDE.

10. Keep it short.

If you can say something in one line instead of three, do it. It takes precious time to read an email. Respect the other person’s time.

11. Don’t forward a hoax.

I should probably say that, in general, you should not send jokes, chain letters, or group emails. When you do, make sure it’s something worthwhile and that the people receiving it would be happy to read it and willing to make the time to do so.

Sometimes we forward things we think are important, but are really hoaxes. Use Snopes or a similar service to check whether the email contains factual information.

12. Don’t email when you are angry.

When we’re angry, we often say things we later regret. If you are angry and feel you have to send an email, write it, but don’t send it. Sleep on it and reread it the next day. Chances are you will either not send the email at all, or you will drastically tone it down.

Most people get way more email in a day than they can handle. For many of us, the struggle to get our inboxes to zero is a constant battle.

Email etiquette helps both the sender and receiver. It helps us sort through our email better as we try to minimize the time drain email has on our lives.

There are slight differences between truly personal emails and business emails, but in both cases, the most important thing to remember is that once the email is out there, it’s out there forever and you can’t take it back.

Do you email with proper etiquette? What email etiquette rules did I forget?

A version of this article originally appeared on the 12 Most blog.

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