Email is fast, easy and immediate. This makes it a great communication tool, however, as with any human interaction there are a certain set of unwritten rules of etiquette. Not sticking to the basic etiquette of email can lead you into quite a bit of hot water at the office and has the potential to be a career-killer.
People send and receive so many messages each day, many end up making embarrassing mistakes that could be detrimental in a professional interaction. Email presents numerous pitfalls for anyone who is careless, or impulsive. We’ve all heard the stories about a “private” e-mail that ended up being passed around to the entire company, and in some cases, all over the Internet.
From smaller but embarassing mistakes, such as a misspelled name, to something more disastrous, such as an unpleasant comment about a colleague accidentally sent straight to them, the world of email is full of potential problems for those who are careless.
As with all our social interactions, email communication is governed by an unwritten set of rules.
These range from which formal greeting you should use and choosing the right subject line, to how to keep a professional tone, keeping to relevant information, and replying within an appropriate time frame.
One of the most important things to consider when it comes to email etiquette is whether the matter you’re discussing is a public one, or something that should be talked about behind closed doors.
Spelling and grammar are of course important, as is the use of formal language – minimizing reliance on informal slang or emoticons.
While it is hoped that colleagues will always try and email properly, sometimes it is useful to have a guide to best practice.
Business communication should be a reflection of your usual professional conduct, and any business emails sent under your company name need to be a credit to your job title.
From the subject line to your email signature, each email is an opportunity to get it right and create strong working relationships. Sloppy use of email etiquette can make you seem unprofessional, rude, and can lead to major misunderstandings.
At CareerWise, we are experts in every aspect of the workplace. We’re here to guide you through the choppy waters of the modern office.
From crafting your C.V. to finessing your interview technique, our friendly team can help you score the perfect role. Whether you are just starting out, or hoping to progress your career, making sure you know about the finer points of email etiquette will stand you in good stead for life in the office. It’s a particularly useful set of techniques during a job hunt, where you are likely to be repeatedly emailing those you want to impress. Make sure you get it right every time by taking in our handy email etiquette guide.
Here are CareerWise’s Top 20 rules for email etiquette in the office.
Address your contact with the appropriate level of formality, and double check the recipient’s name, making sure you spelled it correctly. There is nothing more embarassing than addressing someone by the wrong name!
Also double check that you are sending your email to the intended recipient – accidentally send to the wrong person and you will have wasted time as well as feeling awkward.
Do not assume the person receiving your e-mail knows who you are, or remembers meeting you. If you are uncertain whether the recipient recognises your e-mail address or name, include a simple reminder, and sign off with your professional signature.
It can also be useful to provide your company name and additional contact details.
Being polite and observing the niceties, such as seasonal greetings, can also go a long way to establishing a better working relationship.
Angry emails are a huge email etiquette mistake. Typing in all caps or in red reflects a shouting/yelling emphasis. Always remember that e-mail correspondence lasts forever.
With emotionally charged emails, wait until the next morning to see if you feel the same before pressing send. Often an aggressive subject line will land your email straight in the junk anyway. Striking the right tone can be a much more effective way to make your point.
Be mindful when discussing sensitive information. Refrain from discussing confidential material in e-mails, such as someone’s salary information or the particulars of a highly-sensitive business deal.
Confidential information, when it must be discussed, is better discussed in person. Should an e-mail get into the wrong person’s hands, you could face serious/possibly legal repercussions.
The appropriate response window depends on several factors, but unless you work in some type of emergency capacity, it’s not necessary to be available the instant an e-mail arrives.
Depending on the nature of the e-mail and the sender, responding within 24 to 48 hours is acceptable. If you cannot respond to an email promptly, at the very least email back confirming your receipt and when the sender can expect your response.
While it’s good to write short and to the point, it is irritating to receive pointless messages, especially when navigating busy schedules – they are simply a huge time suck. “Thanks,” and “Oh, OK” do not advance the conversation in any way.
Use emoticons sparingly to ensure your email’s tone and intent are clear. Avoid using shortcuts to real words, emoticons, jargon, or slang. This kind of practice in business-related e-mails is not acceptable.
Be clear in your subject line. With inboxes being clogged by hundreds of e-mails a day, it’s crucial that your subject line gets to the point.
With ever more rigorous spam filters regulating what actually reaches your colleagues inboxes, it’s important to use email etiquette to stay firmly in the territory of the professional email. Don’t allow your mail to be mistaken for spam. Avoid subject lines that are in all caps, all lower case, and those that include URLs and exclamation marks. Maintain this formal email approach in the email’s body as well.
Never attach large files without prior approval from your email recipients. Never send business attachments outside of business hours. Sending unannounced large attachments can clog the receiver’s inbox and cause other important e-mails to bounce. Proper email etiquette means being thoughtful about the impact of your communications.
Before you click Reply All or put extra names on the Cc or Bcc lines, ask yourself if all the recipients need the information in your message. Send or copy others in only on a need to know basis.
You still can’t beat picking up the phone. Many professionals forget that a simple chat to the right person can iron out a situation much faster and more simply than an endless email chain. If a subject has lots of elements that need to be explained or negotiated, don’t handle it via e-mail. Pick up the phone to avoid confusion.
E-mail should not be used for last minute cancellations of meetings, lunches, interviews, and never for devastating news. Proper email etiquette rules involve knowing when not to email. If you have an employee or a friend you need to deliver bad news to, the decent thing to do is pick up the phone.
Don’t overuse the high priority option. If you overuse this feature, few people will take it seriously. A better solution is to use descriptive subject lines that explain exactly what a message is about. Then give more detail in the email body. As your recipient reads, they can prioritise your message as they see fit.
The “Bcc” function allows you to hide the email addresses of recipients from other recipients in the group to which you are sending. It stands for “Blind Carbon Copy”. Proper business email etiquette dictates that if you’re sending a message to a group of people and you need to protect the privacy of your list, you should always use “Bcc.”
Keep it short and get to the point. Nobody has the time or interest to read a long winded mail. Don’t use ten words where one will do! Write concisely, with lots of white space, so as to not overwhelm the recipient. Bullet points can be a great way to swiftly detail more information.
Always end your emails with “Thank you,” “Sincerely,” “Best regards” and your professional email signature. Details of your company website, or your personal contact details, can also be helpful as part of your sign off, especially when communicating with someone unfamiliar. Many email clients add your signature automatically when you arrange this in the settings.
Do always include a signature. You never want someone to have to look up how to get in touch with you. If you’re social media savvy, include all of your social media information in your signature as well, for instance, your linkedin profile.
Remember your e-mail is a reflection of you. Every e-mail you send adds to, or detracts from your reputation. Your professional email address is a key element of your professional role, and as such you want it to appear as polite, well informed, and efficient as you hope to in person. But while when communicating in person you can rely on facial expressions and body language to help you get your message across, with emails you must pay attention to the finer details of etiquette rules in order to appear professional.
Finally please, please, use your spell check, however, don’t rely on it. Spell checkers miss all kinds of obvious errors and it is very important to learn to notice mistakes for yourself.
Use the spell checker for a first pass, to clear up obvious typos, but then go over your email again to check for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that the computer has missed.
Double check the spelling of the recipient’s name, and also be mindful of any cultural differences that it will be important for you to acknowledge (for instance, does the cultural context of your email make anything you’ve said impolite? Are you expecting a reply within an unreasonable timeframe, for instance, is there a religious holiday observed in the recipient’s country at the same time as your deadline?).
It’s easy to overlook the importance of email etiquette rules, but if you get in the habit of applying them, you are sure to see much better results from your communications.
You will be able to build stronger relationships, work more efficiently, and have confidence in your professional emails.
From crafting strong subject lines and getting the recipient’s name correct, to managing an email thread and sending consistently professional emails, good email etiquette is a daily essential in the modern workplace.
Whether you are new to the idea of email etiquette, or an experienced negotiator in the online world, at CareerWise we can help you find the perfect role.
As experts in all things work related, our team at CareerWise can guide your job search, assessing your skills and matching the best talent with the best roles, every time.
CareerWise is Ireland’s leading specialist recruitment firm, based in Cork, Shannon, Galway, Mayo and Dublin and we can help you to find your ideal new job in Ireland.
We specialise in the Engineering, Supply Chain, Science/Pharma, IT and Accounting industries in Ireland, and we look forward to working with you. Contact us online now or call us on +353 (0) 21 206 1900 to arrange a consultation.
Joe Robbins is co-founder of CareerWise Recruitment. A graduate of the University of Limerick (Degree in Business Studies, 1985), Joe worked in the UK for five years where he specialised in materials management, production management and plant management for a number of companies.
He returned to Ireland in 1992 to become Operations Manager for a Cork-based start-up, FMC Automotive Division which was subsequently taken over by Snap-on Equipment. Joe managed the business re-location of this company to Shannon in 1997 before setting up CareerWise Recruitment in 1999.
He is a committee member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Mid-West region, and a former Director and Vice President of the Shannon Chamber of Commerce. Joe is former Chairperson of the Sixmilebridge Camogie Club and current Chairperson of the Clare County Camogie Board.
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