Email etiquette: the only resource guide you’ll ever need!
Somewhere along the line, our means of communication have become increasingly casual. With the astronomical volume of business emails and text messages circulating every minute, an assumption seems to have crept in: that correct punctuation, grammar and spelling are no longer required. Added to the mix are phonetic spelling, abbreviations and acronyms, LOLs, BOLs, smiley faces, and a lack of salutations or sign-offs, and the lines of communication become increasingly blurred.
Some of the changes can arguably be labelled as progress. Losing some of the formalities and embracing some modern trends have been a blessing. But when it comes to business, maintaining standards of email etiquette is important. Here is a list of our top email etiquette recommendations to set you up for success.
Grabbing an old message from your recipient and replying with an outdated subject line could make you seem lazy and uncaring. Unless you are replying in relation to that particular subject, create a new email – it’s so easy and doesn’t take long. Keep your subject fields short, descriptive and clear and avoid typing in all lower case or in capitals. The subject line is an important part of the message and you want it to look just as professional as the rest of your email.
Be prompt with your email responses
Reply to emails as soon as possible. You don’t want to look disorganised or like you don’t care by leaving loads of emails unanswered. If you feel overwhelmed because there are many messages to respond to, get back to each individual with a short response, informing them that you have received their email and will reply in full by a certain time. If your email is in relation to customer service or sales, you really need to be responding on the same day, or as soon as possible. Imagine the frustration for the customer if the days go by with no response…and how quick would you be to go to a competitor if that is the case?
If you are unsure of the level of formality to choose, stay formal – particularly when you’re starting off a new business relationship. This means using the correct salutation (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, Sir), using appropriate fonts and colours and avoiding use of slang or abbreviations. Over time, once a relationship has been established, you could loosen the ropes somewhat and change the tone. But even then, avoid swearing, making crude jokes or resorting to phonetic spelling like “RU coming?” Easy, maybe, but business-like? Perhaps not.
Don’t be unnecessarily stiff and formal
Conversely, you needn’t be too stiff with emails. There is no need to ‘fluff’ things out with excessive formalities if you have formed a relationship with your co-worker, boss or client. If you know the recipient appreciates brevity, use it. Similarly, there’s no need to sign off to everyone with “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully”. Adhering to only one rule of formality can give the impression that you are not good at reading people or somehow you miss the subtleties of communication. Reading people well is an important part of ‘people skills’ and shows a highly developed emotional intelligence.
“Exclamation marks can look like you’re laughing at your own jokes…”
Using correct punctuation
Avoid using more than one exclamation mark or question mark, as using multiples can look childish (Stop! Vs Stop!!!!!!). Use exclamation marks sparingly. In case you haven’t heard, too many exclamation marks can look like you’re laughing at your own jokes. Be discerning. Ellipses have three dots…no more. Avoid underlining where possible, as it can look messy, and be frugal when it comes to ALL CAPITALS. No one likes a shouter!
It’s worth the effort to make your signature look neat and professional. If you can’t get it to look right, find the help of someone who can. Make sure your signature block is no longer than five to six lines, and include your name, company name, website link, possibly a small tagline and your phone number. When placing a website link, remember to preface the address with “http://” so that the hyperlink will work irrespective of the recipient’s browser. Remember too, a smaller font looks much neater than a larger font.
Think carefully before you send a large attachment to everyone on the team. If you have to send something big, give the recipient or recipients prior warning. Also, confirm with the recipient that they have the software to open the attachment. There’s no point sending someone a file that needs to be read in PowerPoint if the recipient doesn’t have the software.
Think about your reply options
This topic may possibly be determined by company policy. Here are a few basic rules to keep in mind though. Don’t “cc” co-workers for the sake of it. It can be very frustrating for the recipients. If you are unsure whether to include someone in an email, ask them first. Use “bcc” for privacy. Recipients of the email will not see the address of the bcc’d person, maintaining their privacy. At the same time, the bcc’d person will know that you have sent the email and will be able to view the contents.
Use proper sentences
Brief, succinct emails are always welcomed. But make sure you write full sentences, adhere to good grammar and remember to use appropriate capitalization. You know that you meant “they’re” and not “their”, but grammatical errors could damage your professional image. The most important thing to remember to help you with your grammar, sentence structure and spelling is to proof read each and every email before you hit send. You’ll be surprised what you can pick up and improve on, just with a quick read through!
This is a big one. When you are at work, you should only send work-related email. Sending personal emails, forwarding jokes, chain letters and the like is fine at home and with your friends and family. But when someone is paying you for your time, you should respect this and use it wisely. Similarly, make sure you are not spending time surfing the Internet or jumping onto Facebook, both are well known time wasters. Remember that your activities may be monitored and that all electronic activity, including emails is retrievable.
Different email styles for work and play may seem confusing at first. But by putting the above list of recommendations into practice you will enhance your professional communication – and image – and it will soon become second nature.