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The Top 15 Email Etiquette Rules

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Using email etiquette

Due to the 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. This is why it is important that you learn how to use email etiquette in your business communications. Email etiquette is just as important as in-person etiquette. You can't use the relative anonymity of email as an excuse for behaving poorly.

Here are our top 15 business email etiquette rules to follow to achieve a positive impression with business contacts:

1. Don’t write everything in CAPITALS

Writing in capitals implies you are shouting in your message and can come across as aggressive.  If the email is important, consider other ways to convey your message.

2. BCC recipients or use a mail merge

Never place all email addresses in the “To:” field if you are sending a mailer to many contacts. This is one of the most common email etiquette mistakes people make. Otherwise, all readers will see all email addresses, which can be especially annoying when viewing a message on a mobile device. Also, most people don’t want their email address published for all to see.

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 the information you’re sending is highly sensitive, 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 messages and not using proper email etiquette.

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. Once there is a written record criticizing what you've done, you put yourself in a weaker negotiating position.

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.

You also wouldn't use slang in person when speaking to someone in a professional context. Email etiquette dictates that the same is true when sending emails.

Emoticons may be a fun way of showing emotions, but you don’t know how the recipient will take them. They also can look very unprofessional. It’s better to say what you actually mean when you send someone an email.

5. Don’t request delivery and read receipts

This is guaranteed to annoy recipients before they have even read your message. Also, it doesn’t always work as intended. 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. This is email etiquette 101!

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. This means 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.

The basis of email etiquette mandates that you don't come across as too emotional when messaging. 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, body language 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. 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 miscommunications, especially in the written form. You need to tailor your message and email etiquette 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. This means business associates from these countries will often be more personal in their writing. So, your email etiquette should be polite and personable.

However, low-context cultures (German, American or Scandinavian) prefer to get to the point quickly with less emphasis on personalization. Your email etiquette should focus on being professional and informative.

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.

Writing a text message or an email to a friend in all lowercase is fine. However, when emailing a colleague or business associate, always use sentence case (starting every sentence with a capital letter).

Title case can be used for the subject line though (every word’s first letter is capitalized). This can help make your subject line 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 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. You want your message to be easy to read. Using multiple font sizes and colors looks messy and is simpy 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. This may cause the text to automatically change to a default one like 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

Double check everything before you hit send every time. 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.

This goes for mobile emails too (having a signature saying “Sorry for any typos” is really poor email etiquette and just doesn't cut it in today's business world). 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. This will only improve your email etiquette as you're providing recipients with an easy way to contact you.

You can even add elements like promotional banners and social media links if appropriate. Just don’t include personal quotations or complex animations. You need to remember to remain professional and conform to all of the email etiquette tips we've highlighted in this article.

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