Regardless of your company culture and seniority, adopting email etiquette in your work correspondence is a good practice to show your professionalism. This is especially important when introducing yourself to a recruiter, client or customer. Following the correct email etiquette accentuates your trustworthiness. Thus, people are more likely to respond back to you. In this article, we discuss what email etiquette is, why it's important and 15 email etiquette guidelines with a relevant example.
What is email etiquette?
Email etiquette refers to the code of conduct of composing or responding to an email. You can adapt these guidelines to suit your audience and the purpose of your writing. For example, the writing style you would choose to address a recruiter in a job application email would differ from the one you would use in a farewell email to your close co-workers. Norms regarding email etiquette exist to bring structure; and therefore, clarity during the communication process.
Related: How To Write a Cover Letter
Why is email etiquette important?
Email etiquette is important to follow in the workplace because your writing style reflects on you. Even the slightest of changes can impact the way people feel about your work ethic and potential. Since email has taken over almost every type of communication in the workplace, it has become even more essential to adopt these rules. Here are a few reasons why companies implement basic practices on email etiquette:
- Professionalism: as an employee representing an organisation, you want to use proper email etiquette to convey professionalism in your correspondence with co-workers, clients and customers.
- Efficiency: adhering to this basic structure helps email recipients process important information with speed and accuracy.
- Protection from liability: practicing email etiquette will help you stay vigilant about the risks of misunderstandings. It can safeguard against costly mistakes.
15 email etiquette guidelines
Here are 15 email etiquette guidelines to train your writing skills in the workplace:
1. Use a professional email address
For any correspondence to do with your work, you should always use your company email. While it's more acceptable for self-employed workers such as freelancers to use their personal email, it's best to set up an email account with your company name instead. This drives trust and increases the likelihood that people will respond back to you.
If you are applying for a job through your personal email, use an email address that is appropriate for the workplace. Make sure it mentions your name so that recruiters remember you.
2. Be cautious with 'Reply All'
People receive several email notifications each day, so use the 'Reply All' function sparingly. Consider the relevance of your content to the people in your email to help you make a sound judgement.
3. Begin with a clear subject line
Before you draft your email, come up with a focused subject line. It's a useful section that communicates the urgency and content of your email within seconds of it arriving in the recipient's inbox.
Think about the keywords you want to highlight in your email body. Use them to formulate a concise subject line. It's a good practice that trains your mind to understand the purpose of your writing so that you don't go off track.
4. Understand your audience
If you are emailing someone from another country, tailor your content to their culture and background. Research their customs to get an idea about their notions of professionalism. Since you can't use body language to convey signs of respect, it's especially important that you pay attention to email etiquette.
For example, in Australia, it's appropriate to be casual in your interactions over email, whereas in high-context cultures, such as China and Japan, businesses prefer a more formal communication style.
5. Open and close with a polite salutation
Choose a greeting that fits the relationship you have with your recipient. If you are emailing a close co-worker, a casual salutation such as 'Hello' is appropriate. Whereas, if you are communicating with a customer or senior business leader, email protocol advises that we adhere to a more generic greeting, such as 'Dear Mr. First name' or 'Dear Ms. Last name'.
This guideline also applies to the way you end an email. Here are some examples of formal salutations to close an email:
- Yours sincerely
- Respectfully yours
- Yours faithfully
- All the best
- Kind regards
- Warm regards
6. Use exclamation marks sparingly
Pay attention to your punctuation when writing a work email. Often exclamation marks sound immature and distracting. It's even possible for people to mistake your good-natured tone for sarcasm or anger. Thus, limit exclamation marks to convey excitement only.
7. Be mindful of humour
Humour is a great device to get people to open up and feel comfortable. However, humour can be subjective. It can get lost in translation and isn't appropriate for every situation. In a professional exchange, it's better to leave humour out of emails unless you know the recipient well. As a general rule, avoid topics about race, religion, gender, sexuality and disability in the workplace.
8. Format your email in classic fonts
Select a font that is legible and formal for business correspondence. Examples of suitable fonts include Arial, Calibri and Times New Roman. Unlike stylistic fonts that can overwhelm your reader, these fonts hold people's attention with their simplicity. A classic black font in size 10- or 12-point is the best option to ensure your reader doesn't miss out on any important details.
9. Keep a positive tone
When you are introducing yourself in an email, it's especially important to pay close attention to your tone of voice. Your tone forms their impression of you and establishes the quality of your working relationship. Read through your content to fine-tune your tone. Be gracious using words like 'please' and 'thank you' to soften your approach.
10. Include a signature block
Create a standard signature block to insert at the end of every email below your name. It should include all your relevant contact details, such as your job title, company name, work number and email address. You can also choose to highlight any accolades your company has achieved to appear more trustworthy. It's often the first place a person will look to get information on how to reach you. Thus, make the most of this section.
Vice President of Investor Relations | ABC Bank
1234 1234 | email@example.com
Winner of People's Bank of Australia Award - 2018 & 2019
11. Proofread your message
Before you send your email or submit any business document, it's good practice to carefully proofread your work. Don't just rely on spell check to correct your spelling and grammar. Use your own judgement to check that you have used punctuation correctly too.
Fix any sentences that sound too wordy so that they don't distract from the flow of your argument. Try to use active voice as much as possible to appear authoritative and informed on the subject. Being able to proofread your work shows your attention to detail and leaves a good impression on your reader.
12. Check the recipient's name
Always check the recipient's name one last time before you send the email. Check how they've signed off on emails to you and spell the name the same way. Be aware that sometimes the auto-correct function incorrectly changes some names, so do a final proofread too.
13. Double-check attachments
Forgetting to attach documents, such as resumes and cover letters, is one of the most common mistakes job candidates make. Before you send an email, check that you have attached all the necessary documents in the correct file formats. To make it easier for your recipient, try to use PDF or Microsoft Office files whenever possible. Remember to label your documents clearly. This not only helps your recipient navigate your email but also acts as a checklist that you can use.
14. Add the recipient address last
You don't want to send an email accidentally before you have finished writing and proofing the message. To safeguard yourself, make a habit of typing in the recipient's email address last. This will also encourage you to recheck the email address before sending it through.
15. Reply within 24 hours
It's a common courtesy to reply to someone's email within 24 hours of reading it. This facilitates decision-making, especially when urgent issues arise. If you cannot reply within this timeframe, set up an out of office email explaining how to proceed and express your apologies for the delay.
Email etiquette example
Here's an example of a message that makes good use of email etiquette guidelines for the workplace:
Subject line: Follow Up - Design Brief Update
Dear Mr. Andrews,
I wanted to thank you for arranging our conference call today. As discussed, we would like to go ahead with the new design brief. Please find attached the amendments to the original document. I have also copied Henry, our Graphic Designer, in this email. Feel free to reach out to him should you need any other collaterals.
Thank you for your time!
Head of Design| Company ABC
1234 1234 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Winner of Design Company of the Year - 2018 & 2020