Email has become an essential part of our daily lives. From connecting with friends to staying in contact with clients, email is a tool that we all use regularly. However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between what’s professional and what’s not when it comes to email etiquette.
Here are some basic dos and don’ts that every professional needs to know before sending out their next message!
- Don’t use emoticons if you’re writing to someone outside of your friendship circle, especially someone that does business with you or for whom you are representing a company.
- If the email is urgent, communicate the sense of urgency without using all capital letters.
- Don’t include attachments unless requested to do so. If you’re sending an attachment with your email that isn’t too large and is something that will be beneficial for them to review before responding or meeting, then go ahead and attach it! However, if you are including several large files or a link to a website that they can view on their own time, then don’t.
- Don’t use all capital letters unless you’re emphasizing your point and/or it’s part of the title or name of something.
- Do start sentences with actionable words like “start,” “stop,” etc., instead of phrases such as “I think” or just using periods.
- Don’t reply-all if only replying to one person. If there’s no reason for everyone who received the original message (especially if it was sent out en masse) to be included in responding back, don’t do it automatically just because they were all copied into the initial correspondence. It may seem like a convenience, but it’s more of an inconvenience to the people who did not request any follow-up information.
- Don’t forget to include basic contact info! It may seem like a no-brainer that you should already have this information included at the bottom of every correspondence thread you send out, but for those occasional emails where we get so caught up with getting our point across quickly and/or writing as much as possible before hitting “send,” there is always room for error.
- Always take care to make sure that they can find YOU if they need or want more information about something–include links to all social media profiles (especially business ones!) and website URLs using proper link formatting.
- Don’t send out an informal/personalized email to a business email address.
- Do include actionable words at the beginning of sentences when you are writing an email that has a specific purpose, such as asking someone for something or making suggestions toward your next steps in moving forward with something together. Start phrases concisely and directly so they can quickly get to what it is that you need from them; this will make their job easier and keep your relationship on track!
- Do use shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences when you are writing emails to someone, especially if it’s a professional email. Just because this isn’t an essay assignment doesn’t mean that your words should take up the whole screen–be concise in what you’re trying to say so they can easily process each idea within its own paragraph or sentence. If there is something important for them to remember at the end of your email (such as asking about their availability next week), then include it after one final sentence with only two-to-four short lines; don’t make them scroll back up through everything else just to figure out where you stand on schedule! It may seem like splitting hairs but every little bit helps when it comes to readability and clarity.
- Do end emails by asking questions that need direct answers if they will help expedite moving forward in some form. For example, “Did you have time to review the attachment?” or “I look forward to hearing from you about this! What is your availability next week?” This shows that you’re paying attention and following up while being considerate of their schedule. If there’s anything else that may be helpful for them to know, then consider including it in your email.
- Do match the tone of your subject line with the overall message. If you have something professional and serious that needs addressed, then don’t make it sound like you’re inviting them out for drinks by using overly casual language in your “Hello!” or worse yet, nothing at all (which is an instant red flag). It may seem like they should be able to tell what kind of correspondence this is just based on who it’s coming from but there are always people who will open emails without reading their content first; avoid any misunderstandings by making sure that everything in the opening salutation matches up perfectly with how formal/informative your body copy actually ends up being.
- Do include actionable words at the beginning of sentences when you are writing an email that has a specific purpose, such as asking someone for something or making suggestions toward your next steps in moving forward with something together. Start phrases concisely and directly so they can quickly get to what it is that you need from them; this will make their job easier and keep your relationship on track.
- Do end your email with questions if you are looking for responses or clarification on something.
- Use straightforward language and active voice to create a clear message, don’t write in passive or vague terms.
- Keep your email concise. This will help keep the overall length of emails to less than half of one side of the paper (one page). If there’s more information needed after reading the email, the person will reply back.
- Use separate emails for different topics/information and send it to one person at a time (initiate conversation via your own email) instead of CC’ing multiple people or having them click “Reply All”. This prevents confusion on who’s being communicated with about what information.
- Do not be afraid to take the lead and set up a time for an in-person meeting. It is better than having your emails get lost or ignored because you can discuss them further over coffee or lunch, etc.
Overall, like our everyday conversations, your writing might be misunderstood without the perspective one might get from hearing your voice. As a rule of thumb, please read your email out loud prior to sending it.