Writing emails may seem straightforward: type out your message, enter the address, and hit send. But there’s more to it. Much more. Writing effective emails is a skill developed through experience, and there are email etiquette rules you must learn.
Emailing is not the same as speaking face-to-face, so it requires a different set of communication skills. It’s harder to gauge your reader’s reaction without seeing their body language or facial expression. And unfortunately, miscommunication is all too common with written communication. So it’s important to do everything you can to minimize any misinterpretation of your message.
Here are some email etiquette rules to consider… before you hit the send button.
Use a Professional Email Address
If you have a work-specific email address, email etiquette rules say use this address for any work-related correspondence. Likewise, if you email a professor or university administrator, it’s best to use your school email account. Your professor will recognize the account format and will be more inclined to respond to your message promptly.
Outside of work and school, it’s best to use a professional-sounding email address. An address that states your name will make you easier to remember. Gone are the days when it was acceptable to use a silly email address like “babybunny439” or “hotstuff22”. Remember your reader can see your email address prior to opening the email, and if it doesn’t sound professional, they may delete your message without reading a word.
Email etiquette rules say your subject line should reflect the topic of your message. Keep it simple. It should be easy to understand and provide a concise introduction to your message. If you email a professor, for example, be sure to include your last name and the class number in the subject line.
Salutation and Sign Off
How you begin and end your message is as important as the body of the message according to email etiquette rules. Your email is a reflection of you, and it is often the first form of communication you share with someone. Address all recipients with respect and professionalism. An unprofessional salutation could land your correspondence in the trash bin, unread. Begin the message with a “Hello,” “Hi,” or “Dear,” followed by the recipient’s name.
The sign-off is equally important. Proper sign-off shows you are polite and respectful of your recipient. Sign off with “Thank you,” “Sincerely,” “Regards,” “All the best,” or “Respectfully,” followed by your complete name. It’s also a good idea to include your contact information below your name. If this information is in one location, your recipient doesn’t have to waste time looking for it.
Font and Text Formatting
To create a professional-looking email message, utilize your email’s standard font and size formatting; save the decorative font for friends and family. The goal when you send an email is to be clearly understood, so it’s best to stick with the basics.
Avoid highlighting anything in your email, unless absolutely necessary, as highlighting can be confusing and irritating to your reader. In some situations, it can even seem rude.
Use bold, italicized, or underlined text sparingly in your message if you need to emphasize something.
Email etiquette rules suggest your messages should be short and to the point. Write in complete sentences and use appropriate punctuation. Avoid jokes, sarcasm, and emoticons/emojis, unless you know your recipient very well and are certain they will understand your tone. Also, keeping in mind your recipient’s cultural understanding will go a long way to avoiding miscommunication. If you know your references or colloquialisms will be understood, it may be appropriate to use them. In a professional email, stick with well-known or universally-accepted phrases and references.
Along the same lines, do not use textspeak in your messages. This type of abbreviation is not universally accepted or understood, and your message may be misinterpreted. An email should only be a few short paragraphs in length; long enough to succinctly convey your meaning.
It is also a good idea to add the recipient’s email address after you’ve written the message. The last thing you want is to accidentally hit the send button before proof-reading. If you are replying to a thread of messages, you can draft your reply in a blank document, then copy and paste it into your message.
Keep the tone of your email positive. This will convey confidence, competence, and solution-based thinking, which your recipient will appreciate. As well, contractions, used wisely, can create a friendly tone, but don’t overuse them. And, of course, don’t “yell” through the use of all caps.
These days, it is entirely too easy to misspell a word in an email. Often, auto-correct accidentally adds an incorrect to your message. This can change the entire meaning or intent of your message. Get into the habit of checking for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors before hitting send. Proof-reading can help you identify lengthy sections. Sometimes reading the message out loud to yourself or to a friend can reveal what needed revisions.
Remember, an email cannot be un-sent. So always review your message to make sure your meaning is clear, concise, and respectful.
Also, keep in mind that your correspondence may not be as private as you think. Once you hit that send button, you may end up sharing the message with anyone. If you write with a positive attitude and a professional tone, using correct grammar and punctuation and the above email etiquette rules, your email correspondence will help you build stronger professional relationships.
Also published on Medium.