Email etiquette for every professional
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
Email is the most common form of communication between colleagues and stakeholders and in some cases, it is the only form of communication. Email communication plays an integral role in how relationships are built and interpreted between colleagues and stakeholders. Follow these guidelines for remaining professional and courteous in the workplace to build and maintain lasting and positve connections.
When drafting new email messages:
1. Assume your email is public
Write every email as if it were to be displayed in public forum. If you wouldn’t say it aloud for everyone to hear, it should not be written. Emails can be forwarded for any reason at any given time and depending on your company policy/procedures, may be periodically reviewed.
2. Make the subject line clear and effective
People prioritize their emails by content. The subject line allows the recipient a quick glance at what your message might entail. Your subject line should then capture what you need. If your subject line doesn’t clearly depict your need or intent, you may find yourself waiting for a reply. In some cases, your email may get lost in the shuffle or worse, may not be read at all.
3. Get to the point
Working professionals generally don’t have time to read a book in the middle of the workday. Eliminate text from emails that is not necessary for the point and lead with the bottom line up front. If it is more than a few paragraphs, consider making a phone call instead- in which case, it is always appropriate to follow up with an email for future reference.
4. Address the recipient formally
Using slang or informal titles is inappropriate in the workplace. Recipients should be addressed by the titles they’ve earned. Refer to Item 1, “Assume that your email is public”, and address the recipient formally regardless of your relationship. Catch-alls such as “Hey guys”, “Y’all”, etc. can undermine your position and in some cases, can be perceived as disrespectful.
5. Write complete sentences
It is your responsibility to clearly present your thoughts.
6. Mind your tone and avoid humor
Tone can be ambiguous and easily be lost when written. Text cannot convey tone, inflection, body language, or other non-verbal aspects of communication. While your intent may be positive and genuine, there is no way to guarantee the receipient will receive your message in the same light as it were sent. Think of the different ways your message can be perceived before you hit send to avoid unnecessary conflict or friction.
7. Do not use profanity
Walk away from the computer if you need to calm down. Profanity has no place in the workplace. It should not make its way to email for any reason.
8. Be mindful of punctuation.
Use exclamation points to convey positive excitement, only. Do not use exclamation points to convey anger or the action of yelling. Do not use multiple exclamation points or question marks. This can be perceived as rude and elementary.
9. Do not use all caps.
Only type in ALL CAPS when using acronyms.
10. Add the recipient or recipient list last
You never want to make the mistake of sending an email partially written. Anything can happen while you are drafting your message. Adding the recipient list last will protect you against sending it prematurely.
11. Order the recipient list
In organizations where a ranking structure is applied, the first recipient listed should bear the highest rank and so on.
12. Place the right recipients in the “to” line
The “To” line is for individuals who must take action as a result of the email or who has a direct need for the information being passed along.
13. Place the right recipients in the “cc” line
No action should ever be required of a recipient listed in the “cc” line. If action is required, refer to Item 12 and place them in the “to” line. It is always courteous to copy any individual you mention in an email for situational awareness by placing them in the “cc” line. Do not send a courtesy copy to individuals that do not have a need for the information.
14. Place the right recipients in the “bcc” line
Use “Bcc” feature for mass messages containing unrelated parties. Use your judgment especially for messages that may inadvertently expose or reveal a recipients status.
15. Proofread your message
Sometimes our brain tends to move a bit faster than out fingers can type. Always proofread your message to make sure you correct any spelling mistakes or omissions before hitting send.
16. Include a signature block
Let the recipient know who you are and provide alternate ways to contact you by including a standard signature block.
When replying to emails messages:
1. Acknowledge receipt and respond timely
Always let the sender know you‘ve received their message. It provides them with assurance and confidence in your position or ability to deliver.
2. Assume good intent when unsure
This goes back to minding your tone. Sometimes the sender may miss the mark. Give them the benefit of doubt. If an assumption must be made, assume that the message was well-intended and reply from a positive stance.
3. Read it again
Read the email again for good measure. You want to avoid responding with partial information or worse, requesting information from what was already provided in the message you are responding to.
4. Never reply in haste
Take your time. If you don’t have time to reply, acknowledge receipt and set expectations for when you may be able to provide the sender with the information.
5. Use the right email thread
Always reply from the latest message in a conversation thread. Never reply to a conversation thread with an unrelated topic. The subject line should accurately reflect the content of the conversation. Begin a new thread for a new topic and never mix subjects. A good rule of thumb: If the subject line does not still fit your need, begin a new thread with the appropriate subject.
6. Reply all only when absolutely necessary
“Reply All” only in instances in which all parties included need to know your response.
7. Do not participate in chain messages
Chain messages are unprofessional. You will not receive $1,000 if you forward the message to 100 people but you may lose credibility.
8. Do not unintentionally create a chain message
Every once in a while, an email is sent to a mass of recipients by mistake. Refer to Item 6 “Reply All only when absolutely necessary”, and do not reply all when telling the sender that you’ve received the message in error. Chances are, they’ve already been alerted and is aware of the mistake. It isn’t necessary to flood the recipient list a second time with yet another unsolicited message.