Chances are, by the time you click on this blog post, you’ve sent or read an email today. Email is, after all, one of the most common forms of asynchronous communication used in the workplace today.
According to Zippia, over 300 billion emails find their way into cyberspace every day. Are many of those ignored, deleted, or caught by spam filters? Of course — but we’re not talking about junk mail. We’re here for the important emails — you know, the ones that necessitate proper email etiquette.
To prevent you from appearing unprofessional to your clients and co-workers, here’s your comprehensive guide to business email etiquette.
What Is email etiquette?
Email etiquette is a collection of generally acceptable behaviors that one should engage in when corresponding with someone over email. Email etiquette can vary based on culture, industry, organization, etc. Despite these differences, as long as you word your emails carefully, considerately, and clearly, you should be in a good place.
If you want to appear professional, avoid offending your clients and co-workers, and strengthen your business relationships, good email etiquette is a must! Ready to learn how to do it?
25 email etiquette tips you wish you’d learned sooner
General email etiquette
- Use clear subject lines
The subject line will be the first part of your email that the recipient sees. So, make it snappy! Your subject line should describe the content of the email clearly in 10 words or less.
- Have appropriate greetings and closings
When in doubt, err on the side of formal and respectful. Choose greetings such as “Hello,” “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or even “Dear” and use the recipient's name. When you end the email, offer a relevant sign-off such as “Regards,” “Thank you,” or “Talk to you soon.”
- Keep emails concise
When you keep your emails short, sweet, and to the point, then you show the recipient that you respect their time. (Plus, shorter emails are more likely to get read.) Stick to 200 words or fewer for the best results.
- Use proper formatting and fonts
There’s a place for elegant fonts and zany formatting, and that place is not your business emails. Not only do wild colors and styles make your email more difficult to read, but they also make you look less professional. Stick to standard black fonts in traditional sizes.
- Proofread before you hit send
Correct punctuation and grammar don’t just make your writing clear and easy to read, but they also make it look professional. Always check your writing at least once before you send it.
Business email etiquette
- Use a professional tone and language
Getting the correct tone for an email can be challenging since most people find it difficult to read the tone without help from facial features or body language. Since your recipient won’t have those, you can avoid miscommunication by:
- Using positive rather than negative language
- Avoiding sarcasm like the plague
- Limiting your use of adjectives to make your email sound calm
- Mimicking your recipient’s writing style
- Respond quickly
You don’t need to respond to every email right away, but you should try to get to them sooner rather than later — often, your team is relying on you to answer those messages ASAP. Some good tips:
- Respond to team members and urgent requests within 12 hours.
- For non-urgent requests from team members, respond within 24 hours.
- For requests from sources outside of work, respond by the end of the workweek (unless the email is urgent or requires a response ASAP).
- If emailing a customer or client, respond within 1-2 hours.
- Remember the 'Reply All' and Cc/Bcc options
Like screen sharing, using email makes it easy to accidentally share sensitive info. You can use Cc’ing to bring the email to someone else’s attention or connect people. Use the Bcc option if you want to share an email without publicizing everyone’s email address. Only use “Reply All” if everyone in the conversation needs to read the email you’re sharing; if not, just reply to those that do.
- Treat private and confidential information with respect
Yes, email mistakes happen — but you can reduce the risk of that by treating confidential information with respect. This means double-checking who you’re sending info to, being careful with the “Reply All” button, and always asking permission before you forward or share other people’s info or emails.
- Know how to handle sensitive info
When you have to send sensitive information, do it carefully. Just like you use secure video conferencing services to talk to one another face-to-face, you should likewise use secure email services to send your messages.
Use an encrypted email with strong passwords. Consider using encrypted storage and password-protected attachments as well. Some emails also offer confidential modes that you can use to prevent unauthorized sharing or downloading.
Email etiquette for remote work
- Send virtual meeting invitations
Online meetings may give many causes to sigh — but those sighs won’t be because of your email invitations! Whether you’re hosting a company-wide shindig or a one-on-one chat, send out your invitations at least a week prior and include the meeting agenda, time, and meeting link.
- Ask for status updates and reports
When you’re reaching out to gather information, make sure the recipient knows you’re doing that. Politely request the update or report, keep questions to a minimum, and offer a deadline of when you need the information.
- Utilize collaborative file sharing properly
Try to avoid attaching large files to emails, as doing so will take up a lot of space in the recipient’s inbox. Instead, use file-sharing services like Google Drive or Dropbox to transmit the information.
- Consider time zones and availability
No one likes to get urgent work emails on the weekends, during vacation (or during the off-hours of someone’s workcation), or in the middle of the night. Consider the recipient's location before you hit the send button! If it can wait until the recipient's work hours, then wait.
- Respect everyone’s work-life balance
Remember that a healthy work-life balance is an intrinsic part of workplace wellness. Don’t expect or demand that others answer work emails after work hours. It’s bad form to consistently reach out to people outside of work hours or to send multiple follow-ups to emails that aren’t answered during off-work hours.
Best practices for email management
- Organize your inbox
Spam filters and automatic rules can help thin out unnecessary emails, but you’ll have to devote some daily time to organizing your inbox. Use folders to help differentiate between emails that need a response ASAP and those that can wait a bit.
- Unsubscribe from unnecessary emails
If your inbox is full of offers for events and items, it’s time to make judicious use of the unsubscribe button. Opt out of emails from non-work-related correspondents to help keep your inbox neat.
- Set up your email signature and out-of-office message
Design a nice email signature that will showcase your professionalism and make it easier for the recipient to contact you if needed. Include your name, title, phone number, and website info. If you’re going to be unavailable for several workdays, be sure to set up an automated out-of-office reply to let people know that you’ll reply to their email when you return.
- Increase efficiency with email templates
You can save yourself a lot of time and maximize your productivity by using templates for things like meeting invites, project update requests, and more. Just be sure to personalize the templates before you send them out.
- Prioritize and triage emails
- Replying to it immediately
- Sorting it into a folder for later
- Unsubscribing from the sender and deleting the message
Advanced email etiquette tips
- Personalize emails for recipients
Personalized emails show people that you put some time and thought into your message. Have a great friend in the office? It’s okay to exchange work memes. Know that your new contact just got back from vacation? You can ask them how their trip went. This makes them more likely to respond.
- Know how to handle email conflicts and disagreements
Email is impersonal and can lead to miscommunication and disagreements. When this happens, don’t take things personally, don’t attack the sender, keep your response brief, focus on the facts, and be friendly and firm.
- Follow up on unanswered emails
If an email remains unanswered for more than 48 hours, you may choose to follow up on it. Keep your check-in email short and use it to remind the recipient of your previous email.
- Utilize read receipts and delivery notifications
There is often no need to use read receipts for everyday email unless everyone involved in the email agrees to it. Save these kinds of delivery notifications for situations in which you're exchanging critical emails.
- Understand how cultural differences may impact emails
Always customize your email to fit the style and culture of your correspondent. For example, things like date formats, working hours, use of pleasantries vs. directness, etc. all vary from culture to culture. If you’re communicating with someone from a different culture, be sure to tailor your email to suit the cultural differences.
Email, chat boxes, and virtual reality — oh my!
When it comes to email etiquette, remember the three P’s (be precise, polite, and professional), and your emails will sound much better.
Of course, email isn’t the only way to get in touch with your colleagues and clients — there are tons of synchronous and asynchronous communication options out there for you to try, from online messaging to virtual face-to-face meetings. And one of the best places to try them is Kumospace!
FAQs on email etiquette
Having good email habits makes you appear more professional and increases the likelihood of recipients responding to your messages.
To write a better email, remember these tips:
- Keep it short
- When in doubt, formal is better
- Follow basic email etiquette
- Come up with clear subject lines
- Use a personalized greeting
- Create a professional signature
It all depends on who you’re emailing. It’s usually best to save the emojis for more informal communications or for recipients whom you know well.
Before you hit send, make sure you proofread at least once. Make sure your email is appropriate for your audience (both grammatically and emotionally), keep it short and simple, and try not to send any emails during off-hours (unless it’s a bona fide emergency).
If you’re fast enough, you may be able to recall the email. If you don’t notice right away, though, you should do the following:
- If the email contained sensitive information, alert your data security team or upper management immediately.
- If appropriate, reach out to the recipient — acknowledge your mistake with an apology, and ask them to delete the email.
- Reach out to those who may be impacted by your mistake, and be honest with them about the situation.