Email communications have largely replaced paper communications in the workplace, making email etiquette as important as proper business mail etiquette. Proper business email etiquette helps you make a favorable impression on clients, coworkers and supervisors. With the appropriate formatting and language, you can establish a professional reputation and clearly communicate your message. In this article, we discuss what business email etiquette is and provide tips for improving yours.
Professional Email Format
- Subject line
Identify your goal, consider your audience, keep it concise, proofread your email, use proper etiquette and remember to follow up.
What is business email etiquette?
Business email etiquette is the customary set of manners used in professional email communications. Appropriate email etiquette involves including the necessary elements of a message, such as a clear subject line, greeting, closing, well-organized body paragraphs and proper language. Employees should carefully consider the format and phrasing of their professional messages to make sure they’re sending messages appropriately.
How to follow good business email etiquette
These email etiquette guidelines can help you draft a polite and professional email for work.
- Draft a clear, simple subject line.
- Use a standard font.
- Address your recipient formally.
- Use carbon copy and blind carbon copy appropriately.
- Structure your message clearly.
- Provide a call to action at the end.
- Include a professional closing.
- Proofread your email carefully.
1. Draft a clear, simple subject line
The subject line is one of the most important parts of an email, since it is what recipients see first in their inbox. You can think of the subject line as the title of your message. It should tell the reader why you are writing or what you are writing about.
Create a subject line that’s direct so your recipient immediately understands what your message is concerning. This subject line should summarize the purpose of your email in a few words or a concise sentence. Keeping it brief and only including the main point of your email can improve the recipient’s ability to see your message in their inbox.
Your subject line should be three to five words long. For job applications, use easy identifiers like "Graphic Design Position Application" or "Inquiry-Graphic Design Team." These subject lines are concise and tell the reader exactly what they can expect from your email.
Always write a subject line. Emails without one will say "No subject" in the recipient's inbox, and might go unread. You can make a good first impression by writing a clear, concise and attention-grabbing subject line.
2. Use a standard font
Keep your email’s default font and text color for a neat, professional appearance. Default settings are often black or dark gray text in a simple, easy-to-read font. By using standard fonts and colors, you can better ensure your recipient understands your message and trusts that it is genuinely from you. Some examples of highly readable fonts include:
- Gill Sans
3. Address your recipient formally
Address the recipient as “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” unless you know them very well. You may address people on a first name basis if you are often in cordial contact. Use a professional salutation, such as “Hello Mr. Cho” or “Dear Ms. Eli” to begin your email politely and professionally.
It is especially important to use professionalism when addressing your contact if you are inquiring about a job. If your job application is sent to a general inbox and the job listing did not provide the name of the person who will review your application, addressing your email to "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Hiring Manager" are correct.
4. Use carbon copy and blind carbon copy appropriately
Use carbon copy, or cc, for a group of business contacts who know one another to openly connect each person to the email chain. This is appropriate when you’re emailing a team of coworkers and want your recipients to see who else is on the team. The cc option openly shares everyone’s names and email addresses, so you should only use this when sharing such information is appropriate for the group.
Use blind carbon copy, or bcc, if you’re sending your message to a group of people who do not know one another. This function conceals the names and email addresses of other recipients to protect their privacy when you do not want everyone on the message to receive contact information for the others. It also prohibits recipients from accidentally replying to a large group of people.
5. Structure your message clearly
You can use a variety of structural techniques to organize your body paragraphs and break up large blocks of text to improve readability. When possible, try to keep your email brief by including up to three short sections. If you are sending a longer message, use short paragraphs and bulleted or numbered lists to highlight or outline important information.
Be sure each paragraph connects to the next, and use the first sentence of each as a topic sentence that outlines the ideas of your message. Use plain formatting. Large attachments like images will sometimes be caught by your employer's spam filter, and converting HTML to plain text or vice versa often looks messy. Use a plain serif or sans serif font and black text on a white field.
Read more: How to Write a Professional Email
6. Provide a call to action at the end
Conclude your email with a clear call to action that tells your recipient what you want them to do next. You might ask for an in-person meeting, an RSVP, a file delivery or a general response. Provide a time frame for this communication, such as the end of the day or the end of the week. This call to action lets your recipient know what they need to do and how long they have to comply.
7. Include a professional closing
Conclude your email with a short closing, such as “Thank you,” “Best regards” or “Sincerely.” Include your full name at the bottom along with your title and essential contact information, such as your phone number. This closing gives your recipient all the details they need to respond.
Signing an email with a nickname is acceptable if that is the name everyone calls you by (substituting "Bill" for "William") or if you are writing to a coworker with whom you are friendly. As with the body of your email, avoid using colors, highlighting, unusual fonts or images in your email signature.
Read more: How to End an Email
8. Proofread your email carefully
Reread your message before sending it. Spellcheck can catch many errors, but be sure to check for typos on your own, too. Look for proper punctuation, spelling and grammar. If you’re reaching out to an important client, consider having a coworker look over the message as well before sending it on.
Professional email salutation tips:
1. Avoid gendered language
2. Avoid exclamation points
3. Avoid casual language like "Hey,"
4. Avoid overly formal language like "Sir" or "Madam"
5. Avoid using "To Whom It May Concern"
6. Avoid using times of day, such as "Good morning" or "Good evening"
7. Avoid using "Dear [Job Title]” if possible
Tips for professional email etiquette
The following email guidelines for business messages can help you draft emails that are professional and appropriate in any industry.
- Be polite and positive. Maintaining a professional relationship with employers, customers, clients and coworkers you interact with over email requires a professional tone. You can accomplish this by using formal language instead of slang, complete sentences, correct punctuation, writing out all words and avoiding exclamation points. If you have to address a disagreement through email, provide positive feedback and make sure any criticism you give is constructive. Keep these emails brief, and use an in-person meeting or a phone call instead if possible.
- Use your personal email for casual messages. If you’re sending informal communications about topics not related to the business, you should use your personal email account. Using different email addresses to separate your personal and professional communications also helps you keep your messages and contacts properly organized.
- Only “Reply all” when necessary. Think carefully about whether your response needs to go to everyone who was included in the original message. Only use the “Reply all” option when you’re providing information that is relevant to the entire group. Otherwise, the “Reply” option is usually best.
- Start new email threads for new topics. If you want to address a new topic with a group or individual, begin a new message rather than adding the matter to an existing and unrelated thread. This method can ensure you and other recipients keep communications as organized as possible.
- Respond to messages promptly. A timely response helps clients and coworkers stay on schedule. A brief response is often appropriate for things like acknowledging receipt of a file or confirming a meeting time.
- Consider the culture. If you’re communicating with business contacts abroad, consider their culture. Some cultures prefer only communicating with business contacts they’ve already made, while others are open to messages from new connections. Some cultures also have certain standards when it comes to greetings and opening statements. Making an effort to accommodate these and other cultural preferences helps you build more favorable relationships with global contacts.
- Save your emojis for personal messages. Though emojis are a common part of popular culture, they’re more appropriate for casual messages than business communications.
- Inquire before including an attachment. Ask your recipient if you may send an attachment before including one with an email. Inquire about the best format for these files to make sure your recipient can open them easily. Including a link to a file hosted in the cloud is often easier than attaching files, particularly when files are large. Internal communications are often an exception to this rule, meaning you may send documents to coworkers using your internal email server.