Regardless of where you are in your career, using best practices for email etiquette allows you to make a positive impression on potential employers, business contacts and potential customers. With the help of an email etiquette structure, you can communicate more clearly and efficiently and convey to the recipient that you are intelligent, conscientious and trustworthy. Employing an email etiquette framework in your everyday email correspondence at work takes practice and intention. In this article, we discuss why etiquette is so important and we share 20 of the best practices for email etiquette in the workplace.
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.
Related: How to Write a Professional Email
What is email etiquette?
Email etiquette refers to the code of conduct that guides behavior when writing or responding to emails. These principles of behavior can be modified to suit the intended audience and purpose, but are intended to maintain professionalism and demonstrate a mutual show of respect between email correspondents.
Why is email etiquette important?
The way you communicate reflects the type of employee you are: your work ethic, professionalism and attention to detail. Email etiquette helps to streamline communication and make the information you are sending clear and concise. Companies need to implement best practices for email etiquette for the following reasons:
- Professionalism: Using proper email etiquette conveys a professional image of your employees and overall organization.
- Efficiency: Emails that adhere to etiquette are more direct and convey the message quickly.
- Protection from liability: Practicing email etiquette will help employees stay aware of the risks that accompany emails, reducing the likelihood of mistakes that lead to costly misunderstandings.
20 email etiquette guidelines for the workplace
Here are some best practices for email etiquette in the workplace:
1. Use standard fonts and formatting
For professional business correspondence, keep your fonts, sizes and colors classic. For example, use a standard font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman in 10- or 12-point font and in black. When you use bold or italics, never use them on more than one word or a string of words in a single email.
If you’re copying and pasting text, make sure you clear the formatting before sending the email, as it could appear different than the rest of your text. To clear formatting, you can use "Command + \" on a Mac or "Ctrl + Shift + N" on a PC.
2. Include a clear subject line
Title your email in a way that the recipient immediately knows what the message is about before opening it. For example, if you’re emailing about a change of time for a meeting, you might make the subject “Meeting time changed to 2 pm.” Or if you’re following up on a presentation, you might write, “Quick question about your presentation.”
3. Email from a professional email address
Use your company email address if possible. However, if you are self-employed or using a personal email address for work-related correspondence, set up a professional email address that is appropriate for the workplace.
Google allows you to set up an email with firstname.lastname@example.org for a low monthly fee. A custom email increases the level of trust people have in emails that come from your email address and makes you look more professional.
4. Use professional greetings
Choose a salutation that is appropriate for the relationship you have with the recipient. If you are sending an email to a coworker, a casual greeting such as “Hello” may be appropriate. If you’re contacting someone for the first time or if they are a professional acquaintance, use a more formal greeting like “Dear Sarah/Ms. Atkins.” It’s recommended to use the person’s name exactly as it’s shown too unless you know they go by a nickname. In other words, don’t assume that Michael goes by Mike or that Jennifer goes by Jen unless you’ve seen them refer to themselves in that fashion.
Related: 20 Ways to Start an Email
5. Use an introduction
Depending on who you are emailing, it’s best practice to introduce yourself by first and last name as well as the company you are representing in the first few lines. This is especially important when emailing new contacts, clients, potential customers or employers. Let them know how you received their contact information.
Example: “My name is Jessica Franklin and I’m with White Label Agency. Mark Gregston gave me your name and suggested I reach out to you regarding your amazing printing services.”
Related: How to Introduce Yourself Over Email
6. Know the culture
If you are emailing someone in another country, it is a best practice to research customs in that country. Miscommunication can easily happen because of cultural differences, especially in writing when you don’t see the other person’s body language to accompany the message.
For example, in Japan, it’s polite to inquire about the weather in the first sentence of an email. A good rule to keep in mind is that high-context cultures such as China or Japan want to get to know you before doing business. For this reason, it’s more common for business associates to be more personal in their writing for these countries. Conversely, Germans, Americans or those in Scandanavian countries prefer to do a quick hello and then get to the point quickly.
7. Be cautious with “Reply All”
The benefit of using “Reply all” is that you can respond to everyone at once to let them know an issue has been addressed. However, when in doubt, use “Reply” to avoid inundating a list of people with unnecessary emails.
8. Use sentence case
Use sentence case when you’re sending a professional email. That means capitalizing the first word of every sentence as well as proper nouns. Avoid using all caps on any of the words.
Example: “Anne, it was great seeing you at the meeting. I look forward to connecting again soon.”
9. Double-check attachments
If you can copy and paste information into an email rather than attaching a document, do that. If not, let the recipient know in the body of your email that you have attached a document. It’s also good etiquette to compress or zip the attachment so it takes up less space in their inbox.
For example, if you are attaching a large PowerPoint presentation, large image files or a video, it’s a good idea to compress them in a zip file before attaching. You may also want to consider uploading them to the cloud and giving the recipient the link to download at their convenience.
Proper spelling and grammar are important when sending business correspondence. After you finish writing an email, read it out loud to ensure there are no errors. Taking the time to read it out loud will increase the likelihood of catching any mistakes that your eyes may have skimmed over had you read it silently.
11. Don’t use emojis
Unless the recipient has used emojis when communicating with you in the past, resist the temptation to use them yourself. They can reflect poorly on your professionalism and even though they may seem cute, they can easily be misinterpreted in a business setting.
12. Be positive
Be intentional about maintaining a positive tone in business emails because they lack the benefit of facial expressions and our true voices. Be aware of every word you use and how it may come across. For example, instead of talking about “constraints” or “limitations,” try “possibilities” or “opportunities.” Rather than “faults,” try “differences.”
13. Reply within 24 hours
When someone emails you, replying within 24 hours, perhaps up to 48 hours, is common courtesy. If you have unintentionally passed this timeframe, express your apologies and politely explain the delay.
14. Keep your tone professional
Think carefully about your word choice in an email and how someone else could read them. Avoid negativity, sarcasm and adjectives that can cause you to sound overly emotional. Be careful when using humor too, as it can be misinterpreted.
15. Check the recipient’s name
Always check the recipient’s name one last time before you send the email. Pull up their LinkedIn profile or check how they’ve signed off on emails to you and spell the name the same way. Be aware that sometimes the autocorrect function incorrectly changes some names so do a final proofread too.
16. Shorten URLs
Pasting a lengthy URL into your email can look messy and take up valuable space. Use a link shortener to shorten the link or hyperlink text within the email.
17. Perfect your email signature
Less is generally more where email signatures are concerned. Your signature should typically include only your name, job title, company website or LinkedIn URL and a phone number where you can be reached. You may also want to include your photo or your company’s logo, particularly if you work for yourself. It’s important to check that your email has a responsive design and that it will look good on a mobile device. A responsive design adjusts for mobile users.
Related: How to End an Email
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
18. Use BCC appropriately
BCC stands for blind carbon copy, which is similar to CC except that the email recipients specified in the BCC field do not appear in the header or to the recipients in the To or Cc fields. Using BCC is good etiquette if you want to protect someone’s email address from being exposed to others. For example, if you are emailing a group of subcontractors about a change in policy or procedure, it’s considerate to BCC everyone on the list. It’s also a good idea to use if you’re sending a weekly newsletter to clients who don’t know each other and who would wish to keep their addresses private. Otherwise try to avoid using it, as it may be viewed as deceitful.
19. Think before forwarding
A best practice for forwarding is to summarize what’s being discussed so the recipient quickly knows what you need from them. It’s also important to keep in mind that some emails are not intended to be forwarded and may contain private or sensitive information. Use caution when forwarding.
20. Set informative out-of-office replies
If you plan to be out of the office for an extended period of time, set up an automated out of office reply to let people know you won’t be able to able to respond to their emails until a specific date. Include a contact that the individual can reach if there is an urgent matter. Include “Out of Office” and the date in the subject line so recipients can quickly recognize that they’ve received an automated response. It’s also helpful to include the first line in the message as: “This is an automated message while I am out of the office.”