Email has become an integrated part of our personal and business lives but often times its role in establishing a professional perception is overlooked. While email enables users to be brief, friendlier and more responsive, the approach to writing an email should be similar to that of writing a professional letter. The following email etiquette rules, as pulled from career coach Barbara Pachter’s book The Essentials of Business Etiquette, help serve as a framework we all should follow:
1. Utilize a clear, direct subject line.
“People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line,” Pachter says. “Choose one that lets readers know you are addressing their concerns or business issues.” Keep it brief. Examples of a good subject line include “Meeting date changed,” “Quick question about your presentation,” or “Suggestions for the proposal.”
2. Use a professional email address.
This may seem obvious, but when reviewing emails on your phone it is all too easy to send a professional email from your personal email account. Always double-check your sending email address before hitting send.
3. Think twice before hitting “reply all.”
Does everyone on the email really need to see your reply of “Thank you?” Refrain from hitting “reply all” unless you really think everyone on the list needs to receive the email, Pachter says.
4. Use professional salutations.
While email allows you to write in a more conversational tone, don’t use everyday expressions like “Hey,” “Hi folks,” or “Yo.” Use “Hi” or “Hello” instead. Pachter also advises against shortening anyone’s name. Say “Hi Michael,” unless you’re certain he prefers to be called “Mike.”
5. Use exclamation points sparingly.
If you choose to use an exclamation point, use only one to convey excitement, Pachter says. “People sometimes get carried away and put a number of exclamation points at the end of their sentences. The result can appear too emotional or immature,” she writes.
6. Be cautious with humor.
The tone or facial expression that helps to sell a humorous phrase is not available in an email. In the professional setting, it is better to leave humor out of emails unless you know the recipient well. Pachter says: “Something perceived as funny when spoken may come across very differently when written. When in doubt, leave it out.”
7. Know that people from different cultures speak and write differently.
As noted above with humor, written form does not allow for clear expression, and miscommunication can easily occur because of cultural differences. Pachter suggests as a good reference that high-context cultures (Japanese, Arab or Chinese) want to get to know you before doing business with you. Therefore, it may be common for community members from these countries to be more personal in their writings. On the other hand, people from low-context cultures (German, American or Scandinavian) prefer to get to the point very quickly.
8. Reply to your emails – even if the email wasn’t intended for you.
It’s difficult to reply to every email message ever sent to you, but you should try to, Pachter says. You may need time to collect information for a full response, but just letting the sender know that you received the message and will be working to gather the information will put the sender at ease and will position you as very responsive. This pertains as well to emails accidentally sent to you, especially if the sender is expecting a reply.
9. Proofread every message.
Mistakes can be easily made, especially when we’re rushed or typing a response on our smartphones, but those mistakes won’t go unnoticed by the recipients of your email. “And, depending on the recipient, you may be judged for making them,” Pachter says. Don’t rely on spell-check and be sure to read and re-read your email a few times, preferably aloud, before sending it off.
10. Take some time before responding to an emotionally-charged email.
It can be all too easy to get wrapped up in the emotions created by certain emails, but as previously noted tone and intent can be lost in translation in a written communication. Take time to really read the email and try and understand the sender’s perspective. It is always best to reply in a more professional tone, recognizing the sender’s potential emotions and indicating a desire to come to a mutual agreement. In some cases, it may be best to skip email and just pick up the phone. Many angry email chains could have been resolved with just a quick phone call where each party’s perspective is more easily heard and understood.
11. Add the email address last.
“You don’t want to send an email accidentally before you have finished writing and proofing the message,” Pachter says. “Even when you are replying to a message, it’s a good precaution to delete the recipient’s address and insert it only when you are sure the message is ready to be sent.”
12. Double-check that you’ve selected the correct recipient.
Pachter says to pay careful attention when typing a name from your address book on the email’s “To” line. “It’s easy to select the wrong name, which can be embarrassing to you and to the person who receives the email by mistake.”