For better or for worse, the email inbox dominates our workdays. It’s estimated that over 120 emails are received each day in the average American worker’s inbox, and The Radicati Group estimates that we sent 281+ billion personal and professional emails per day in 2018. That’s a lot of time spent reading, writing, and responding to emails, so it should go without saying that putting your best foot forward is a must.
Professional Email Etiquette Rules
Every professional should know the basics of email etiquette. If you commit these 20 rules to memory, you’ll be sure to stand out in the inbox for all the right reasons.
1. Use a Professional Email Address
If you don’t have a company email address, your personal email address should look the part of a professional. Best practice is to use your name as your email address so your recipients will know immediately who it’s coming from. Check out these 25 ideas for creating a professional email address.
2. Include a Clear, Direct Subject Line
Forty-seven percent of people decide whether to open an email based solely on the subject line. Keep it clear and succinct so your message is more likely to be read.
3. Build Your Signature Block
Email signature blocks usually contain your name, company, job title, and additional contact information (e.g. website, phone number, etc.). This helps your recipient get to know more about you, and adds credibility to your message.
4. Don’t Automatically Hit “Reply All”
Think carefully: does everyone in the email thread need to hear your thoughts, or just the sender? There may be times when hitting “Reply All” makes sense, but don’t let it become a thoughtless habit.
5. Proofread Your Messages
Having misspellings and errors in your messages isn’t just unprofessional – your recipient may also judge you for it. Read your message out loud to catch potential errors before you send it. You can also use proofreading tools like Grammarly to highlight issues.
6. Keep It Professional
It’s not a good idea to get too personal in an email. Opt for a professional yet friendly tone so there are no questions about your intentions.
7. Write Like Everyone Will Read It
Emails aren’t as private as you might like to believe. It’s a good idea to write with the idea that more people than the recipient will see it to avoid including anything too personal or sensitive.
8. Using Humor? Proceed With Caution
It’s easy for humor to get lost in translation, especially if you don’t know your recipient very well. What might be funny to you could be taken the wrong way by someone else. It’s best to avoid humor altogether unless you know the person very well and can anticipate their reaction.
9. Use Correct Punctuation
Email isn’t texting. Even when writing an informal email, you should write in sentence case with correct punctuation. This helps you present a professional and polished image.
10. Respond in a Timely Manner
Most people expect a response to an email within a business day (or less). Don’t put off a response, especially if it only requires a short reply. Otherwise, you risk forgetting to respond altogether.
11. Leave an Out-of-Office Reply
If you’re going on vacation or will otherwise be out of the office, set an appropriate auto-reply so your recipients aren’t left in the dark. If they won’t be getting a response from you for a few days, they deserve to know why. Plus, it can prevent them from sending additional follow-up emails that will end up cluttering your inbox.
12. Don’t Send an Email When You’re Angry
It’s easy to go off on a rant when you’re fuming about a mistake or a customer refuses to pay an invoice. Those feelings can often come out in your writing, so make sure you wait until you’ve calmed down before responding. Sharing your feelings of ill will via email can make the situation worse and isn’t productive for either party.
13. Make Friends With BCC
The BCC feature hides the email addresses of other recipients and is often used to protect their privacy. This allows you to email groups en masse without exposing everyone’s email address. It’s also helpful if you don’t want to include someone on the entire inbox thread.
14. Keep It Brief
Given that so many hours of the workweek are spent on email activities, keep your messages as short as possible to respect your recipients’ time.
15. Add a Clear Call to Action, If Necessary
Make sure you let your recipient know what you want them to do. Do you expect a reply? Will you follow up with them? Should they reach out to you if they have any questions? Make it easy for them to comply by specifying what comes next.
16. Make Your Message Easy to Scan
Formatting can have a lot to do with how your message is received. Opt for short paragraphs and bulleted or numbered lists to make your content easier to scan and comprehend.
17. Use Bold Instead of All Caps
If you need to emphasize something in your message, opt for bold instead of all caps. Capitalizing entire words or sentences can come across as yelling and doesn’t do your professional image any favors.
18. Attach PDFs When Possible
To avoid potential compatibility issues, it’s helpful to send files as PDFs when possible. PDF files can be opened on any operating system, whereas Word documents may pose issues.
19. Attach the File First
If you’re sending attachments, attach them first so you don’t forget. It’s also a good idea to call attention to the attachments somewhere in the body of the email.
20. Add the Recipient Last
Saving the “To” field for last ensures you don’t accidentally send a message that isn’t quite ready.