10 Rules for Business Email Etiquette

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Have you ever received a supposedly professional email before and find out how crude and unprofessional the other party is? How about receiving an email essentially yelling at you for something small? We have all received at least one of those kinds of emails. Has etiquette gone by the wayside with technology? I outline ten rules below of what to do and what NOT to do with email in the business world (and beyond):

  1. DO NOT write an email when you are emotional – This just happened to me last week; a colleague of mine had emailed me, stating some terms of service to me, but essentially wrote the email in a threatening tone. This colleague was just trying to get a point across, but I found the email had no tact (and was terribly rude). The person was probably emotional about something else in life and got triggered by something I had done improperly. I understand; we all get emotional sometimes. But that is when we really SHOULD NOT write any emails, when we are upset, angry, etc. Next time, check your mood before you send out an email to someone; you do not want to come across as hostile.
  2. DO follow up within 24-48 hours with contacts – Nobody likes waiting around for a response to a job application, an interview, a request, and so forth (this is one of my biggest pet peeves). Make it a habit to reply to emails with 1-2 days, even if it’s just to say “No, not interested”. The other party may appreciate just the simple fact that you took time to let them know.
  3. DO NOT use slang or jargon in messages outside of your industry/work – Sure, you might have learned some pretty cool terminology at your previous or current job. Using that terminology outside of your job or industry is pretty pointless though: you may think you are trying to sound smart, but you are just confusing the other party more. Use terms that everyone can understand. Also, use professional writing at all times. You do not want to receive an email that says, “Yo what up?” from your co-worker, do you?
  4. DO spell-check and read over your messages before sending – The email is “just” an email, right? Yes…and no. You are still writing something for someone else to read, and leaving big, ugly typos will not help your cause out at all. Read over your message; even read it out loud if you can. Look for spelling errors not captured by your resident spell-check tool. You do not want to send an email about “the coroner office” to your supervisor.
  5. DO NOT use fancy fonts or formatting – You may think your email editor is super awesome and you want to show the fancy fonts off to your colleagues. Save that for personal emails; fancy fonts and weird formatting will not help you get your point across. At the very least, it will just be annoying for your colleagues to read through the email.
  6. DO break up your email into paragraphs – Should go without saying, but you would be surprised at how many emails we receive that are all words and no break in between thoughts. Nobody wants to read a big long blurb of text on a blog post; who wants to read that in their inbox? Break up topics in your email message so the other party can digest each bite slowly.
  7. DO NOT USE ALL CAPS – See what I did there? And this is another no-brainer/goes-without-saying rule. But there are still people out there who will write all in caps, not realizing they are, in fact, yelling at the other party. Do not be that person.
  8. DO make sure you are sending the email to the right person – There should be a rule to not write any personal messages from an email account primarily used for business…but I realize not everyone wants to check several inboxes. Best alternative–pay attention when your email client auto-guesses who you are sending the email to. You do not want to send an email talking about embarrassing yourself at a business gathering over the weekend to Ted, your supervisor, as opposed to Terri, your sister. Also, if you are copying and pasting a form email to several of your colleagues, make sure to change the name in the salutation so you are not exposing your mass email effort.
  9. DO NOT reply all – Another irksome late 20th century/early 21st century broken rule; unless you are replying all to your friends about a party or a gathering, I highly advise not replying all in a company message. If you are the sender of a mass email, please add people to the BCC line instead of the CC line.
  10. DO keep your emails somewhat short and to-the-point – Yes, there is rule #6 talking about breaking up paragraphs. But this rule is stating that, although your email might run long, make sure the details are supporting what you are requesting/asking for. Do not beat around the bush on a request. Make it short, and, if details ARE necessary, make sure it only makes your case stronger, not weaker.

And there you have it; email etiquette you can apply to both professional and personal usage. If you have other rules you would like to add, feel free to leave a comment below.