15 tips to refine your email etiquette

Follow these tips to avoid angering your office mates and business contacts.

Email is one of the most efficient ways to stay in touch with customers, co-workers and clients.

It’s faster than sending a letter, less intrusive than a phone call, less hassle than a fax, and often more convenient for the recipient. Because of these benefits, it has become pervasive in our corporate culture—and often misused.

Here are 15 essential email etiquette tips:

1. Use the subject line to inform. Often, the subject line determines the importance of the email. Keep it brief, specific and relevant, or the receiver might accidentally delete your email, or mistake it for spam or an unsolicited advertisement.

2. Treat emails like business letters. When addressing someone, it’s better to be more formal than too casual if you want to make a good impression. Use a person’s surname until he responds by signing his email with his first name. This generally indicates that the person doesn’t mind you addressing him more casually.

3. Don’t write in ALL CAPS. Using all uppercase letters is considered cyber shouting. As an alternative, use asterisks to emphasize key words. For example, “Bob and I had a *wonderful* time at the company reception last night.”

4. Company email is never private. If you wish to send someone confidential or time-sensitive information, use the phone or meet in person. People can duplicate, forward and print emails, so don’t send or say anything you wouldn’t want repeated or posted in your company newsletter.

5. Avoid mood mail. Never send an email when you’re angry. Take time to cool down and re-read the email before you send it to be sure it doesn’t contain anything you will later regret. You can’t convey facial expressions, vocal inflection or body language in an email, so the recipient may misconstrue your message as too harsh, too critical or too casual.

6. Praise in person. A congratulatory email doesn’t have the same impact as a personal thank you note, no matter how many people you copy on the message. Besides, most people are likely to cherish typed or handwritten notes versus an email message.

7. Proof before you send. It pays to check before you click. Before you hit the send button, check for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. Take an extra minute or two to proofread, or read your email aloud to be sure that it says what you want it to say.

8. Respect others’ privacy. There will be times when you need to deliver an email to a large group, but don’t want to send a group email. If the recipients are unacquainted and you don’t want to divulge all of the addresses to all recipients, use the “BCC,” or blind carbon copy function. When BCC is used, the only other email address that appears in the recipient’s mailbox is that of the sender.

9. Be cautious about using “reply all.” If you receive an email that was sent to a multitude of people, including yourself, reply only to those who require a response. Hit “reply all” only if it is crucial that every person see your response. In many cases, the sender is the only person who requires a response.

10. Don’t be a pest. If you don’t receive a response after sending an email, either send a different email explaining why you are following up, or pick up the phone to get an answer. Sending the same email over and over again may make you appear too pushy or impatient. It’s easy to assume that the recipient ignored or deleted your message in some cases, but most companies have anti-spam filters that may accidentally block your email.

11. Respond in a timely manner. If someone emails you a question and you don’t have an immediate answer, it is a courteous gesture to email the sender to explain that you are researching their request and will get back to them within a certain time frame once you have the information. If you don’t do this, the person who emailed you may think the message never reached your inbox or that you ignored it.

12. Send attachments only with permission. Many companies have policies discouraging employees from opening attachments from unknown sources. Before sending multiple attachments or photographs, find out if the receiver wants to receive them separately or collectively in one email. Some people may choose to receive them separately so it doesn’t slow down their incoming email messages.

13. Think twice before sending humorous messages. A funny email may seem innocent to you, but it could insult someone else. Email messages that are hostile, harassing or carry discriminatory overtones are permanent and may be forwarded to others without your knowledge. Play it safe and don’t send anything you wouldn’t want posted in your company’s newsletter.

14. Less is more. For short emails, you can use the subject line: “Can we meet this afternoon to go over budgets?” then finish the sentence with “EOM,” the acronym for “end of message.” The recipient won’t need to open the message to respond. Use acronyms only when your recipients know their meaning.

15. Mark your message as “urgent” if necessary. As an alternative to the exclamation point, use keywords at the beginning of the subject line to help recipients filter and sort time-sensitive email quickly. For example, “Urgent” could be the code for “read immediately” while “FYI” could mean no response is required.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert, author and spokesperson. She blogs about etiquette on her personal blog, where this article originally ran.


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