Email Etiquette

In our daily busy schedules always demanding answers or feedback on all those important questions and requests, we also need to ensure we answer with pride, respect and honour, not only on behalf of the company, but also of yourself. Your reply could easily reflect poorly on your business and your personal style. Many people prefer to rather stick to the old-fashioned face to face meetings or a quick phone call instead of an e-mail. However, to ensure facts of these discussions are agreed upon, it might be a wise idea to always send a quick follow-up mail afterwards stating what was discussed.

You are welcome to follow the following tips and hints to ensure quick effective results.

Unprofessional behaviour: Many companies monitor their employee’s e-mails; thus, you should never assume any e-mail is private or confidential. Make sure that whatever information you send in an e-mail, could be send with confidence and be backed up with facts. Sending false information via e-mails is a serious issue, and sending non-business-related e-mails on company time and resources such as chain letters, junk-mail, jokes etc reflects on your lack of professionalism. Know your recipients!

Formality of e-mail: Also avoid assuming that e-mail messages are informal. One should always communicate on e-mail as if your message is printed on your company letterhead, including black standard fonts. Avoid abbreviations and always write out full words and sentences. Keep it short and down to the point unless detail is asked.

Contacts: When adding new contacts to your address book, make sure to save them with their full name and surname, not everything in capitals or small case, otherwise you will give the perception of a lack of education or limited experience with technology. These names will appear when you send a mail to them. Also complete all detail such as e-mail addresses and contact numbers, company names and titles for future search references. Remove old e-mail addresses if they ever change companies. Also make sure your e-mail client is setup to show your full name and details correctly when sending a mail to one of your contacts.

Recipients: The TO, Cc and BCc fields are very important and should not be used incorrectly.

  • TO: Only add the contact recipient’s names you expect to do something or give feedback on here. If your name is here it is expected from you to reply and give feedback and the expectation should be clear in the e-mail body.
  • Cc: This is used to add the few recipients that are involved or should be on the same page for information purposes only around the e-mail topic. Do not assume that these people know each other and that you can share their e-mail addresses with everyone copied, so make sure you have their consent or it is okay with them to add them. Normally these people knows each other already.
  • BCc: This should not be used for the purpose of trying to get anyone in trouble or going behind their back with info, despite the fact of this stigma this field already has. This should be used when multiple groups of people need to be copied, or unknown people is copied not necessarily knowing each other. It is against privacy acts to share information without consent and very unprofessional if a business sends a mail copying everyone to see each other’s email addresses. Some people also use this field to Bcc themselves to retain a copy. However, a copy is already stored in the Sent items list.

e-mail Subject field: This is the topic of your e-mail which most of the time determines if your audience will even read your mail. Make sure not to leave this empty and give meaning to it, but keep it short and down to the point. Check for typos. All in caps or all in small case can mirror an unprofessional behaviour. It could be prefixed with an NB or URGENT in all caps to draw attention if the mail really needs their urgent attention, but this option should not be exploited all the time otherwise your audience will start to see your trend and possible start to ignore future “urgent” mails.

Greetings and common courtesy: Make sure you start your e-mail by greeting the recipient. Just falling into an argument is unprofessional. It is common manners to at least say hello the recipient, by just starting with his or her name also reflects poorly. A new contact should always be addressed with the highest level of courtesy, such as Dear Mr Meyers or Good Morning Mrs Anderson. If you know the recipient’s title, always use that instead, such as Dr, Professor, etc. Only at a later stage when the recipient tells you otherwise could you use a more informal greeting and first names, such as Hi Andy. The greeting could be followed by a: “Hope you are well” but should be done with sincerity, not a generalised statement, expecting an answer. Courtesy also includes that you make an effort to communicate as an educated adult. Proper capitalization and punctuation is expected! Type out full words in full sentences with proper tenses and structure. Not all caps; not all small case. Also, always close off your e-mails with formal greetings and your full name.

Body Formatting of mail: Do not use bold red capital letters all over the mail to attempt bringing your message across as urgent or how frustrated you are, unless that is your day-to-day manner of communicating to your colleagues. This will only give a negative perception to your readers and you should expect a similar type of response if you do get one at all. You want to be respected. Adding too many different types of fonts, colours and embedded pictures might also cause your mail to be blocked by spam filters. Answer mails with bullet points, especially if it was requested in bullet points. If multiple questions were asked, make sure to answer all of them, not just the first one or those you choose. This frustrates the requesting party as they now need to ask again. If you do not know all answers, then state that you will find out or you do not know. Do not just leave it blank or unanswered.

Attachments: Always only add valuable attachments, requested or promised to the recipient. If you did however promise to send an attachment, make sure to honour that as soon as possible and do not let the recipient wait or ask for it again. Keep file sizes and certain file types in mind. Some e-mail filters block executable files to be e-mailed. Rather rename and zip those file types and other large files. Many e-mail servers have limitations to the files they can send or receive, and this is calculated on the total size of all attachments. If you plan to send such large mails, rather schedule them for after hours or over weekends. Also make sure your recipient has the required applications to open the files you plan to send to them.

Reply to All: Only use this button if it is really required and if you could not resolve the matter directly with the actual intended person. Copying the world without a real purpose just clutters their mailboxes. Use it with discretion and when asked to be copied. Getting unwanted mail just ends up in an unread folder with an automated rule.

Avoid using old correspondence mails for new requests: Do not be perceived as lazy and confusing by using old previously used e-mails to start a new conversation on mail. Always start a new mail when you have new correspondence, only use replies to old mails when it is still related to that topic. If an existing mail trail goes into a new direction, you are welcome to change the topic to reflect that of the new correspondence.

Signature files: Keep your e-mail signature to no more than 5-6 lines to avoid being viewed as egocentric. Limit your signature to your name, title, contact details, company name, website link, and perhaps a slogan, logo, offer or media links such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Some company mail servers add e-mails automatically, confirm this before adding an additional signature looking different to the one of the company creating confusion.

Respond Promptly: Always do your best to ensure you respond to your company customer requests as soon as possible. Do not delay in providing feedback and sending requested files or details. Also, always follow-up regularly and confirm meeting or call discussions with a quick follow-up mail afterwards and be courteous to ask for additions for those points you might have missed. No response can give a poor impression on you and your company.

Send Button: Before clicking the send button after you drafted your e-mail, make sure you double checked your spelling. Run a spell check. Check for grammar. If you know you are known for making grammatical errors, ask someone to co-read your mail first. Do not send any mails when you are mad. Rather save it in the drafts first and reply later once you have re-evaluated the situation and your thoughts. Rather late than sorry. Avoid funny characters, weird fonts, multiple exclamation-, question marks and ellipses (multiple full stops). One at the end of a sentence is enough. You do not want your reader to guess or leave things to his / her imagination. You want to get your message across. Hit that send button once you are 100% confident with your mail.