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Email Etiquette

Rules for Business Correspondence


A woman works on a computer

A woman sends email at work.

Morsa Images / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Many people who use email for business communications fail to realize there is a big difference between using it in that context and to communicate with friends and family. Correspondence of this type should be professional in nature, yet it is often impolite, too casual and filled with errors. This leaves a bad impression on recipients which may include your boss, colleagues, clients or prospective employers. Here are some basic rules of email etiquette.

Mind Your Manners

What three words have a total of only 14 letters yet carry a great deal of meaning? People may not notice these words when they're there, but if you forget to use them, you'll come across looking disrespectful and ungrateful. Give Up? These very powerful words are "Please" and "Thank You." Please take my advice. You'll thank me later.

Many people are offended if strangers address them by their first names. When in doubt, use Mr., Mrs., or Dr. (if appropriate). When you are replying to an email and the sender of the original message has used his or her first name only, then you could safely assume it's okay to use that person's first name as well.

Watch Your Tone

Tone is a difficult thing to explain. Remember when your parents would say "Don't use that tone of voice with me, young lady (or young man)?" Your feelings come across by the way you say something. It is easy to change your tone when you're speaking. When you are writing it's very hard to do it. Whenever I write an email, I read my message over several times before I hit send. I want to make sure I come across as respectful, friendly, and approachable. I don't want to sound curt or demanding. Sometimes just rearranging your paragraphs will help.

If you're writing to someone you've communicated with before, you might want to begin by saying "I hope you are well." Email writers often use emoticons or emoji to convey a certain feeling: happy, sad, confuse or excited. Use good judgement here. If you write to someone frequently and you have a less formal relationship, then emoticons and emoji may be okay. If, however, you're writing to a prospective employer, stick to words only.

Avoid writing your message using all upper case letters. It looks like you're shouting. Don't use all lower case letters either. Some people say it will make it seem like you're mumbling.

Be Concise

When composing an email, you should be as brief as possible while still making sure to include all pertinent information. Most people don't have a lot of time to spend on email. If you want your recipient to pay attention to your message, make sure you get to your point as quickly as possible. However, don't leave out important details. If providing a lot of background information will help the recipient answer your query, by all means, include it.

Avoid Texting Abbreviations

Many of us, especially those who spend a lot of time texting, have gotten accustomed to using abbreviations for any word two or more letters long. We use U instead of you, UR instead of your, 2 instead of to or too, plz instead of please, and thx instead of thanks. That's fine if your recipient is a friend. Business email should be more formal. Of course, commonly used abbreviations such as Mr. and Mrs., FYI (for your information), inc., and etc. are fine.

Use a Professional Email Address

Take a look at your email address. What does it say about you? Are you a sexymom@isp.com? Maybe. But do you want a prospective employer to think so? Consider getting a more formal address. Perhaps your first initial and last name would be good. If you're really attached to your address and don't want to change it, consider adding a second one for professional use only. If your ISP (Internet Service Provider) only provides a single address, look into getting a free account. Never use a company email account for job hunting purposes.

Remember That Spelling and Grammar Count

Make sure your spelling is correct. Use your spell checker but be careful about relying on it too heavily. If you are using the wrong spelling for a particular use of a word, for example two vs. to vs. too, the spell checker won't pick up your mistake. Don't try to guess the spelling of a word. Look it up in a dictionary.

Good grammar is important. Contractions are okay if you want to convey a more conversational tone. Slang is not and under no circumstances should you use offensive language.

Don't Send Attachments Without Permission

Attachments are the bane of my existence. I receive them often but I don't open them unless I know the sender. And even then, I hesitate. As one of my colleagues said recently, "I don't open attachments unless they're from my own mother." Another colleague responded: "I don't open attachments especially if they're from my mother." Attachments often carry viruses which the sender usually doesn't even know he or she is sending to you. As a matter of fact, the sender may not even know he or she is sending you an email. There are many viruses that cause your email program to send an infected file to everyone in your address book. If you need to send someone an attachment, contact the recipient first to ask if it's okay.

Make a Good First Impression

I love email. It's much less intrusive than a phone call and faster than a letter. It may be your introduction to someone you've never met before. Take your time putting together a well-written message. Once you hit the send button you won't have another chance.

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