Recently, we told you why we think email still has a place in the corporate (and academic and not-for-profit) world.  For reasons ranging from keeping a paper trail to ensuring the correct person reads the message, email is still the best method of written communication (if you missed that post, you can catch up here).

But, as people get more and more used to instant communication and informal social media rules, the level of professionalism in a standard email is going way down. We’ve received emails that, quite frankly, have caused more than one eyebrow to raise. One-sentence emails…blunt language…vague messaging…we’ve seen all kinds of poorly written emails.

Whether you are emailing a business about your specific situation or you represent a business and you’re corresponding with a client, if you’re not coming across as professional in your communication, your message will not receive the attention it deserves.

An individual who is rude or ignores standard email pleasantries may not get their query resolved in a satisfactory manner.

A business who is rude or ignores standard email pleasantries may get the reputation of being unprofessional.

Email etiquette

Whether you are a business owner who communicates directly with customers/clients or you are a member of the general public communicating with businesses or within your own organization/work environment, when it comes to email, there are things you can do to make sure your email is 1. read and 2. understood.

Use an appropriate greeting. It’s actually considered a bit dated now to use “Dear,” and, in this information overload age, it’s important to try and do everything you can to make your message stand out without looking like spam. Use a person’s first name. Saying “Mr. Green” comes off as too formal most of the time (unless you are a lawyer or a banker). We like it when people use “Hello Jaime” or “Hi Christine.” We also both appreciate it when people take the time to spell our names correctly. Also be aware that you cannot control when the other person will read your email, so just because you are writing your message at 9am, does not mean the other person will read it before lunch…so try to avoid time-specific greetings, such as “Good morning,” unless you 100% know that the other person is waiting on the other side of your screen.

Use paragraphs please. Even though it’s not an academic research paper you’re crafting, it’s important to help your reader get through your message easily. This means that, yes, it’s actually quite helpful to have an intro, body, and closing paragraph. Now, these sections don’t need to be long. In fact, sometimes 1-2 sentences will do. But they do serve to break up the message into readable chunks and create smooth sailing for your reader.

Share your message early on. Don’t worry about spending a paragraph talking about the weather. Respect that people and businesses are overloaded with written communication and want to know early on if your message is something that needs their immediate attention. “I am writing to____” is a fine way to begin an email. You can be direct and still be polite, and the person on the receiving end will appreciate what it is you need assistance with that much sooner (plus many people tend to skim emails—having your ask in the opening sentence ensures that it gets read).

Please please please stop using ALL CAPS. Using all capital letters equates to shouting, and using them will result in you coming across as angry. If you want to emphasize a word, use bold or italics.

Minimize the fancy. Remember that not all email platforms are created equal, so cease all that custom font and formatting. Nobody is judging your desktop publishing skills based on an email, and, in fact, these extra details may be distracting from your message.

Don’t babble. It’s an email, not a hand-written letter. Keep your message simple and to-the-point.

Be selective with the exclamation points. I would actually challenge you to not use them at all, but sometimes they can be useful to show enthusiasm. You don’t want to overdo it though (then, you just end up coming across as a hyper puppy).

Read over your email before you send. This has got to be our top tip. Make sure the email is going to the person you intend it to go to, that you have a relevant (yet brief) subject…and there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Again, it’s about professionalism and if your email is full of spelling mistakes, you’re not going to come across looking so professional. (I mean, if you have one minor typo, nobody is going to laugh at you—but just take care with the written language…it does reflect on your overall level of professionalism).

Treat the high priority option with care. We all remember the kid who cried wolf right? Yup, same deal goes here. If all your emails are “high priority,” then, really, none of them are.

Be respectful of the “reply all” option. Sometimes, this is needed; other times, you’re wasting a whole bunch of people’s time.

Include message threads where appropriate. If your email correspondence has been going back-and-forth a while, you may need to cut some of the thread and only include the most relevant bits. But context sure is helpful, especially if the recipient has been away from email for a while and may need a reminder about what’s going on.

Include a signature with your position, business phone number, and url/social handles of your company. There’s no need for inspirational quotes.

In terms of replying to email, unless you are on vacation or away from the office (here, a helpful auto-note would help), it’s considered good manners to reply within 24–48 hours of receiving an email.

How often do you send email? And what’s your number one email pet peeve?