When email use became common in the early ’90s, the business world changed. Email now consumes a significant portion of our workdays.
According to a study by the International Data Corporation (IDC), workers spend 28 percent of their workweeks reading and answering email.
While we try to work faster and more efficiently, we mustn’t forget the social rules that accompany any form of communication.
Here are some dos and don’ts of email etiquette:
Do have a clear subject line.
Most of us have hundreds of emails clogging our inboxes every day, so the clearer your subject line, the more likely the recipient will read your message.
For example, if you’re sending a proposal, write: “The Fitch Proposal is Attached.”
Don’t forget your signature.
Every email should include a signature that tells the recipient who you are and how to contact you. Set it up to automatically appear at the end of each email. Include all of your contact details—address, email and phone number—so the recipient doesn’t have to look up anything.
Do use a professional salutation.
Using “hey,” “yo” or “hiya” isn’t professional, no matter how well you know the recipient. Use “hi” or “hello” instead.
To be more formal, use “Dear (insert name).” Using the person’s name in the salutation (“Hello, Robert”) is appropriate, but don’t shorten a person’s name unless he gives you permission to do so.
Don’t use humor.
Humor doesn’t translate well via email. There’s a good chance your recipient will misinterpret the joke or think you’re being sarcastic. When in doubt, leave humor out of business communications.
Do proofread your message.
Don’t be surprised if people judge you by the way you compose an email. For example, if your email is littered with misspelled words and grammatical errors, you’ll appear sloppy, careless or even uneducated. Check your spelling and grammar before you hit “send.”
Don’t assume the recipient knows what you are talking about.
Create your message as a stand-alone note, even if it is in response to an email chain. This means not responding with one-liners.
Include the subject and any references to previous emails, research or conversations. It can be frustrating and time consuming for your recipient to look back at the email chain to brush up on the context. Your recipient might have hundreds of emails coming in each day, and she likely won’t remember the chain of events leading up to your email.
Do reply to all emails.
Give a timely and polite reply to each legitimate email addressed to you. Even if you don’t have an answer at the moment, take a second to let the sender know you received her email. Inform the sender she sent the email to the wrong recipient, too.
Don’t reply when you’re angry.
Never send an angry email or give a quick, flippant response. Give your message thoughtful consideration before sending it. If you’re angry, save your message as a draft, and review it later when you are calmer and have time to formulate an appropriate response.
Do keep private material confidential.
It is far too easy to share emails, even inadvertently. If you have to share highly personal or confidential information, do so in person or over the phone. Ask permission before sharing sensitive material either in an email or as an attachment.
Don’t overuse exclamation points!
Exclamation points, emoticons, all CAPITALS and abbreviations (such as “LOL”) do not translate well in business communication. Don’t use them unless you know the recipient extremely well. It’s also not professional to use a string of exclamation points!!!!!
It might take some practice to keep your emails professional and to the point, but you will look more polished and organized if you do.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an author, business etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2016 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.