Research shows that the average employee spends roughly a quarter of their time at the office slogging through emails – sending, receiving and perusing. But the fact is, even though we can’t call emailing a ‘new thing’ anymore, a lot of professional business people still don’t know how to use email appropriately. And forgetting about business email etiquette can lead to embarrassing mistakes which have a detrimental effect on professional interactions.
So here are eight email etiquette rules that you’d be wise to follow…
Have a clear, direct subject line
Choose a subject line that accurately reflects the subject of the email, letting your readers know that you are addressing their concerns or a particular business issue. Examples of a good, direct, clear subject line are “Meeting date changed” and “Suggested topics for your presentation”.
Use a professional email address
If you work for a company, you can – and should – use the company email address. Things get a bit more complicated if you’re self-employed or you have a personal email address that you use occasionally for work purposes. In those cases, you need to consider carefully what the address should be. It should convey your name so that recipients know who is sending the email, and should be appropriate for the workplace. Don’t use “ciderlover@” no matter how much you enjoy a pint of Strongbow.
Think twice before pressing “reply all”.
Make sure every one of your recipients actually needs to see the message. Nobody wants to read emails that haven’t got anything to do with them. So if your reply only concerns one or a few recipients, make sure they are the only ones who receive your email.
Use proper salutations
Use professional salutations when talking to suppliers, clients, customers and other businesses/parties. Use “Dear [first name]” for those you already have a working relationship with, or “Dear [Mr Jones, Mrs Jones, Dr Jones, Professor Jones]” for someone you don’t know that well. If you do not know whether a female recipient is married, use “Ms Jones”. If you do not know the recipient’s name (and always make an effort to find out), use “Dear Sir or Madam”. Don’t use “Dear Sirs”. This is old-fashioned and implies that anyone who might read the email is a male. For less formal emails to those you have a friendly working relationship with, and emails sent within your firm/company to colleagues, a polite “Hi Julie”, “Hello Julie”, “Hi all” or “Hi everyone” will suffice. “Hey Julie”, “Hey guys”, “Hey folks”, might be considered too casual and colloquial for the office, but it does depend on the company and the degree of formality and congeniality among the staff.
Have an appropriate sign-off
For very brief emails, you can get away with a blank line and just your name and signature, preceded by something like “Thanks”, “Take care”, “Enjoy your weekend”, or “Speak soon.” For longer or more formal emails, use “Best regards”, “Kind regards” or simply “Regards” (though “Regards” can come across a little cold). For very formal emails such as job applications, you can use “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” (if you’ve address the email to “Dear Sir or Madam”). However, “Yours sincerely” is seen less and less in emails, and is reserved more for letters.
Proofread every message
Typos will not go unnoticed in professional emails. Always proofread your message before you click “send”. Read and reread if necessary. Don’t make embarrassing (yet frighteningly common) errors like using “your” when you mean “you’re” or “it’s” when you mean “its”. If you’re not sure, you need to learn about apostrophes. Also, don’t rely on your spell-checker, which will rewrite words when you make a typo. One manager intended to write “Sorry for the inconvenience”, but after relying on his spell-check, he ended up writing “Sorry for the incontinence”.
Add the email address last
If you add the email address before you’ve finished writing and checking your message, there’s a chance you’ll accidentally send an unfinished or unproofed message. So get into a habit of adding the email address last. Even when you’re replying to a message, it’s a good idea to delete the email address and only add it when you’re sure the message is ready to go.
Check – and recheck – that you’ve selected the correct recipient
Lots of us have made the mistake of sending an email or text message to the wrong person. In a professional environment, this can be hugely embarrassing, detrimental to your working relationships or damaging to your company interests. I knew a lawyer once who sent a load of confidential information about his client’s case to exactly the person who wasn’t supposed to see it – the lawyer on the opposing side. I myself have sent a message grumbling about a colleague to the colleague I’m grumbling about!