It is a common misconception that email is a disposable communication tool. We write an email; we send an email; we forget about the email. Due to the sheer volume of emails sent daily, we tend to communicate in a way that we never would in person. It’s easy to slip into the habit of writing emails in a colloquial manner with abbreviations, slang and poor grammar. But this is where embarrassing mistakes can occur: mistakes that can have serious business consequences and irreparably damage reputations.
Here are the top 15 business email etiquette rules you should follow in order to achieve a positive impression with business contacts:
1. Don’t write everything in CAPITALS
Writing in capitals conveys that you are shouting in your message and can come across as very aggressive. If the email is important, consider other ways to convey your message. Using capitals can trigger a negative response and annoy the recipient.
2. BCC recipients or use a mail merge
Never place all the email addresses in the “To:” field if you are sending a mailer to a large number of contacts. Otherwise, all readers will see all email addresses, which can be especially annoying when viewing an email on a mobile device. Also, most people don’t want their email address published for all to see, mainly to avoid receiving spam.
To get around this, you should use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field for all addresses, making them invisible to recipients of the email. Alternatively, you can use an email program like Outlook to do a mail merge that sends a unique message to every person on your list.
3. Never discuss confidential information
Emails are easy to copy, print and forward. They’re also surprisingly easy to intercept by malicious outside parties. If information you’re sending is highly sensitive and you don’t want it in the public sphere, don’t email it! Even if the email isn’t forwarded on to someone else, company management will be able to find out if you are sending inappropriate emails.
Email also carries with it a certain level of legality. If you’re sent an email that says you’ve failed or let someone down, don’t send a reply to defend yourself. Even if it feels like the right thing to do, once there is a written record criticizing what you have done, you put yourself in a weaker negotiating position. The ideal way to handle this is to either say nothing or write a quick response saying that you will look into the matter as soon as you can.
4. Be careful using abbreviations or emoticons
Abbreviations like LOL (Laugh Out Loud) or BRB (Be Right Back) should be saved for instant messages with friends, not for the business world. Some people also may not understand these abbreviations. Emoticons may be a fun way of showing emotions, but you don’t know how the recipient will take them and they look very unprofessional. It’s always better to spell out exactly what you mean when you send someone an email.
5. Don’t request delivery and read receipts
This is often guaranteed to annoy recipients before they have even read your message. Also, it doesn’t always work as some recipients may block the receipt function or their email software might not support it. If you want to know if a recipient has received your email, ask them directly to let you know.
6. Include a clear, direct subject line
A good subject line might be “Meeting date changed” or “Suggestions for the proposal.” Many recipients will decide to open your email based on the subject line alone, so you need to choose one that lets them know you are addressing their business concerns.
7. Make sure you are using a professional email address
Remember, you are representing your company in every email you send. You should never use a personal email account when sending work-related emails. Imagine what a professional client would think if they saw the email address you used from your college days? If someone emailed you using the address “[email protected],” would you seriously want to do business with them?
8. Use exclamation points sparingly
Only use exclamation points to convey excitement. Otherwise, you come across as too emotional, aggressive or immature. Remember you are sending business emails, not messages to your friends. It is important to be as professional as possible.
9. Be careful when using humor
Humor can easily get lost in translation via email. Recipients don’t have facial expressions or tone‑of‑voice to guide them. Also, remember that just because you find something funny, it does not mean the recipient will feel the same way. If you have any doubts or are worried you might offend someone, leave humor out.
10. Understand that different cultures speak and write differently
Cultural differences can cause a lot of miscommunication, especially in the written form. You need to tailor your message to take the recipient’s cultural background into account.
High-context cultures (Arab, Chinese or Japanese) want to get to know you before they conduct business with you, so business associates from these countries will often be more personal in their writing. However, low-context cultures (German, American or Scandinavian) prefer to get to the point quickly with less emphasis on personalization.
11. Use proper grammar and punctuation
Proper sentence structure is extremely important when it comes to writing a professional email. Using correct grammar and punctuation is the first place to start. Full stops, commas, question marks; these are all things you learn in school. Use them!
Writing a text message or an email to a friend in all lowercase is fine, but when emailing a colleague or business associate, always use sentence case. Sentence case is essentially what you see on this page: starting every sentence with a capital letter.
Title case can be used for the subject line though (every word’s first letter is capitalized), as this helps your subject stand out more.
12. Remember your tone
It’s best to stay formal for new contacts as it shows courtesy and respect. Until you know you have a friendly relationship with your contacts, writing informal emails may give off a bad impression.
When you are contacting someone for the first time, always address them by their salutation and surname. For example, if you’re emailing Simon Peters, start the email with “Dear Mr. Peters” or “Hello Mr. Peters”. Analyze their reply to gauge whether you can call them by their first name in your next communication.
Stay formal when signing off your emails by saying “Thank you,” “Kind regards,” “All the best,” or “Sincerely.”
13. Check the formatting of the email
Presentation is key, and over-formatting an email equals poor presentation. Using multiple font sizes and colors looks messy and is bad email etiquette.
Standard font size (10pt or 12pt) is the only size that should be used when composing emails. Keep font colors simple; black is the easiest color to read on all devices.
It’s recommended you use web safe fonts such as Arial or Calibri as these are easier to read. If you use custom fonts when sending an email, the font may not be installed on your recipient’s device, so the text will automatically change to a default one such as Times New Roman.
Try to refrain from making your text bold, italicized, or underlined unless it is 100% necessary. It may come across as rude or pushy. Instead, use words to emphasize your point.
14. Proofread everything you send
Mistakes in emails tend to not go unnoticed. Even if you’re in a rush, it takes less time to proofread something compared to apologizing for a mistake you’ve made or clarifying a particular point. This goes for mobile emails too (and having a signature saying “Sorry for any typos” just doesn’t cut it!). It’s also wise to add the email address you're sending to last so you don’t accidentally send your message before you’re ready.
15. Include an email signature
The recipient will want to know who you are. So, give them that information through a professional email signature. This should state your full name, job title, company name, phone number and email address at the bare minimum. This is applicable to both desktop and mobile emails.
You can even add elements like promotional banners and social media links if appropriate. Just don’t include personal quotations or complex animations.
Bad email etiquette can have serious consequences just as bad etiquette can in real life. A poorly written email is not only a reflection of you, but of the company you represent. You need to think of email as a permanent record that cannot be deleted and can be forwarded around the world in seconds. Properly written emails can go a long way with business contacts, especially when forging new professional relationships. By following these email etiquette rules, you will ensure you create a great lasting impression.