Employer Branding

12 Professional Email Etiquette Guidelines

Many people now use email as a primary way of communicating with friends, family, co-workers and others who are important to each of us for different reasons. You may be contacting someone about employment, a business venture, following up with customer service or emailing instead of using the telephone.

Personal emails sent between friends and family should be treated differently than professional email correspondence. Understand the audience you’re communicating with will determine how casual you can be. Keep the reason for your email clear and concise, especially when using this medium to contact businesses and your co-workers. Forwarding emails to show perceived productivity is never a good idea.

Don’t turn business emails into a chat. If you go back and forth with the same person twice, pick up the phone or open a chat window. Email is admissible evidence in court. Do not write anything that you would be afraid to be released to the public

From a business perspective many of us have little or no experience as authors or writers. Those who write well are often pressed for time and tend to exclude information from the email enabling them to quickly proceed to the next task. As a result, emails are often sent that exhibit poor use of grammar or punctuation; incorrect spelling; and incomplete, outdated, or conflicting information. There’s an expectation that emails are read, understood and action is taken based on the information contained in the email.

Emails are legal documents. An unedited email is not only a reflection of your professionalism, it can also be used against you in court. For example, if you were turning down a proposal and instead of saying you will not be accepting it, you said you will be accepting it (forgetting the not) — you could be held accountable. Everything that comes out of your computer is something that can come back to haunt you if you don’t take care and attention to really mean what you say and say what you mean.

Some of these etiquette suggestions might seem obvious. With apologies to The Golden Rule, ‘email others as you’d like to be emailed.’

These are some guidelines. Not all need to be followed for every audience, as the person emailing you can determine which rule fits best.

12 Guidelines:

  1. Return emails within the same timeframe you return phone calls. This may not always be realistic but people want to know you’ve received their correspondence.
  2. Include the action you require of the recipient in the email subject line. For example, “Response required or FYI only’
  3. Check for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. Use capital letters sparingly, if at all, because ‘tone’ can’t also be detected in an email.
  4. Use an appropriate font and point size.
  5. Write in a positive tone. Avoid negative words and blaming statements as much as possible.
  6. When sending an attachment mention what’s being attached and make sure it’s sent. If you realize you forgot to send it, re-send with an apology
  7. Deliver the news upfront, whether in a subject line or within the first sentence if possible. Very few people have time to read stories.
  8. Think about what you’re writing before you hit the ‘send’ button. Read your message twice and see if the email makes sense. Calm down before responding to a message that offends you.
  9. As much as possible avoid ‘reply all’ when emailing.
  10. Do not send huge attachments with emails. It’s better to upload on a shared network resource and send people a link. That way messages don’t get stuck or clog up business systems
  11. Make sure the proper recipients are on the email and make sure you get the names right (don’t write Keith when you mean Kenneth).
  12. If things become heated, misunderstandings will probably occur. There are times a phone call may be needed to smooth things over.

Everyone has received an email which has angered them. Write your responses and save them as drafts. Let some time go by and open the message again and read it carefully and edit it. This does two things. You get to vent, even if it only to yourself. By sending out a revised and calmer email, things are kept on a professional and constructive level.

It’s important to respect everyone’s time. Never send an email that you wouldn’t expect your entire professional and personal network to see. Just because you think something’s important, doesn’t necessarily mean that your email has the same sense of urgency for the person you’re emailing.

It’s also important to not include text messaging emoticons and phrases like ‘LOL’ as they can make your message too personal. You never know who will see the email you send.

Common professional courtesy and etiquette should never go out of style. Thanks for taking the time to read my post.

Related: How to Create a Professional Email Signature.

By Kenneth Lang

Kenneth Lang is a social media analyst who has worked with job seekers and small business owners on how to best maximize using LinkedIn for specific goals. He’s worked for large and small companies, most recently as Online Project Management Support for The New York Times in New York City on the International version of the newspaper – The International Herald Tribune. 

Kenneth is co-founder of Steps To Success which offers individual and group LinkedIn sessions for business owners.