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Your Guide to Professional Email Etiquette

No matter what the weather, if you work in an office or academic environment you probably have a blizzard of emails storming your inbox daily. Today I hope to metaphorically hand you a shovel and teach you how to dig your way out of your emails in the most professional way possible! You will find that a little professional email etiquette goes a long way in warming your email recipients’ hearts – and keeping you in their good graces.

Email etiquette for your busy inbox-magoosh

Photo by gabrielle_cc

1. Have a Clear Subject Line

Remember that the recipient probably handles as many emails every day as you do. Having a clear subject line will let them know not only what’s in the email, but what priority to place on responding to that email. You would want the same, wouldn’t you? That’s email etiquette at work!

If you use vague headers like “Hi” or “For your attention” and if you use all caps or exclamation points, the email server may send you to the spam folder where you are ignored all together.

Also, make sure that the subject line is relevant to the message. If you have a new message, don’t just hit “Reply” on an old message because you can’t be bothered with starting a new email. That’s for informal emails to friends, etc. Professionally, it’s better to start a new email.

2. Take it Easy on “Reply All”

“Reply All” should only be used if your reply pertains to every person on the reply list. Everyone has enough emails to deal with without getting bogged down with the ones that don’t pertain to them!

An email could start as an invitation to an office party. Great! But then you and the planner start emailing back and forth on which flavor of ice cream cake to buy. Now the rest of the office just groans as they receive email after email about the cake – which everyone knows should be chocolate!

3. Privacy is Paramount

Although many of our politicians have apparently forgotten this tip, you need to remember that any email leaves an electronic trail and can be viewed by anyone if they dig far enough. Don’t ever put something out into the cyberworld that you wouldn’t want the actual world to read!

This is incredibly important! You may feel like you have a shroud of privacy in the electronic age – but that feeling is FALSE. (The same could and should be said for social media, but that isn’t our topic here. So I’ll leave it for another day!)

Here is something you may have never thought of before. If you are writing an email to more than one recipient, you should put your email address as the primary recipient and use the Bcc line for everyone else’s email. This way, you protect their privacy by not giving all of your recipients everyone else’s email address. It may seem like a small thing, but some of your recipients will be grateful that you didn’t spread their contact information around.

Of course, in a corporate environment where you already know each other’s email addresses, the Cc line works just fine.

4. Proofread Every Message

I know you are busy, but this is absolutely essential for every email. You have to remember that every email is a reflection of you. The last thing you want to do is look foolish, or like you don’t have command of the English language simply because you didn’t bother to proofread.

I mean, everyone does it. You’re trying to get an email out quickly. You feel pressed for time, so you type it out quickly and just hit “Send.” It should be fine, you think. Then you go off to your meeting, and when you come back you have gotten a reply. As you look over the reply, you’re mortified because you catch all the typos and mistakes you made in the original email!

And unlike Facebook – there are no do-overs! It’s out there. Permanently. Full of ridiculous and possibly even funny mistakes. And it all could have been avoided if you’d only taken 60 seconds to read it over before hitting “Send.” *sigh*

5. Watch the Tone

Always remember, tone is everything. You are not only communicating a message, you are communicating an emotion or “feeling” surrounding that message. And tone is one of the most difficult things to convey well in an email. It is often misconstrued. And if the email is important in any respect, having your recipient misconstrue the tone could leave you with a recipient that is not happy with you.

They might think you were rude when you were just trying to be brief. They may think you were somewhat offensive when you were simply trying to speak powerfully.

Typically, face-to-face verbal communication is loaded with non-verbal cues that tell the hearer what they need to know. The tone of your voice, your body language, and just the look on your face can give the hearer very accurate information on what you mean as you speak.

Unfortunately, we have none of these non-verbal cues to help us decipher the meaning behind an email. So proceed to word your correspondence with caution!

Read the Email Out Loud

If this is an important email, especially if it is on an intense subject, it is a good practice to read the email out loud before sending it. Interestingly, it may sound one way in your head but far different when you hear yourself say it. Reading it out loud will give you an idea of how the recipient will “hear it” when they read your email.

Also, regarding tone, stay away from negative words like “dismal failure” and “atrocious.” Find kinder, more positive ways to say things. Remember to always say “please” and “thank you” and never, ever, email when you are angry! Wait until you cool off and can compose a lucid, even-tempered email.

Other Good Habits

Never use all capital letters in your email. Even though you don’t mean it, it actually looks like you are shouting! You have to hit the right tone in writing.

It’s a good practice to put the recipient’s email address in last. This stops you from hurriedly clicking the “Send” button before making sure the tone is right and that you have proofread everything. Also, double check the email address. Address books within emails are a wonderful tool, but it is really easy to accidentally email Snidely Whiplash when you were actually trying to send the email to Sniddle Whipstash.

5. Know Your Audience

Always remember who you are writing to. The age of email makes us feel that we can be much less formal with each other than is probably warranted. You really need to take a close look at who you are writing to and the level of formality that you should afford them.

High-Level Business Email

If this is a sales or high-level business email, write it as if you were writing the email on your company’s letterhead. Don’t use salutations like “Yo” and “Hey.” “Hi” is acceptable if the formality doesn’t warrant “Dear Ms….” And don’t abbreviate words unless you are in the military or some other environment that commonly uses anagrams. Today’s internet jargon and abbreviations are not acceptable when using professional email etiquette.

Interoffice

In an interoffice environment, you can let your guard down a little more. After all, you probably work closely with these people. However, use humor sparingly and definitely know the recipient well before you use it. What you may think is a real knee-slapper could be quite offensive to someone else. Also, no flirting!

Remember that people in other cultures carry on business much differently than in the U.S. Many Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures are very formal in business communications until they really get to know you well.

6. Attachments and Formatting

Always make sure that any large attachments you want to send are expected by the recipient. Email addresses have a limited amount of storage, so sending large files in an email may clog the recipient’s email folder and cause subsequent emails to be rejected. Also, some email servers will merely kick your large email to the curb where it will never make it to your recipient at all.

And always use standard, easily readable fonts in your professional emails. I know you really dig the Cosmic Blue Ice Cube lettering, but save that lovely font for your personal emails!

This one may seem obvious, but it bears mentioning. In professional emails, always use the email address that your company assigned to you, and which includes the company name. Nothing looks less professional than an email sent from partyanimal2000@wahoo.com.

You should always use a signature line so the recipient knows how to get in touch with you. However, don’t put your resume in your signature line – as that just looks egotistical. Keep it simple with no more than six lines like your name, email address, company website, and phone number.

7. Respond Promptly

You are going to have to respond eventually anyway. Why not respond quickly so that the recipient feels valued by you? Responding promptly also gives the recipient the impression that you are an organized “on the ball” kind of person (even if you’re not).

And do not use auto-responders unless you are truly away (say, on vacation). Auto-responders like, “Thanks for your email. I’ll get back to you as soon as humanly possible,” are useless and often annoy the recipient. And to make matters worse – auto-responders alert spammers that they have hit a valid email address! They can now flood your email with sales ads for cheap pharmaceuticals. Yippee.

8. KISS

Yes, in email etiquette, the old “Keep It Simple Stupid” rule still applies. Remember, the recipient is likely buried in emails. You should keep your emails short and to the point. You don’t want the recipient to have to mine through five paragraphs before getting to the point of the email. I know it’s tough sometimes, but remember, this is not a social email, it’s a professional one.

 
Are there any other professional email etiquette tips that you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

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