Email Etiquette 

The dos and don’ts of business emails

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a cringe-worthy, confusing, or infuriating email at some point in our professional lives. Perhaps you’ve even been the sender of an accidental ‘reply all’, or anger-filled, keyboard-bashing tirade that, despite the enormous amount of satisfaction you felt, landed you in hot water. And, let’s not forget the old ‘forgot to attach the attachment’ face-palming faux-pas, or the lost email in the cesspool of correspondence lacking a subject line.

Thankfully, there are a few email writing tips that can help you structure a considered and professional message.


Subject Lines – Use them 

Subject lines; a subject close to our heart. The amount of professionals that still manage to bypass the necessity of a subject line, despite the dialogue box pleading with them to include one before they hit ‘send’, is mind-boggling. Similarly, you may get that one step further and include a subject line that has seemingly no relevance to the actual message.

Subject lines are your informative and succinct little friends. Not only will they give recipients a heads up (and potential sense of urgency) about what they’re about to open, but can later be used as a reference point in searching through your inbox for ‘that email’.


Consider Your Audience

To smiley face emoji, or not to smiley face emoji? The different greetings, tone, and structure of your email should depend entirely on your audience. If it is your first email to a recipient, it’s best to use a more formal tone and greeting. In formal salutations, stick to ‘Hello’ or ‘Dear’, and veer away from ‘Hi’ or ‘Hey’. In your signoff, avoid the casual ‘Cheers’ or ‘Talk Soon’, and instead opt for the safer options of ‘Kind regards’ and ‘Sincerely’.

When you know your recipient is more on the casual side, you can start to loosen the reins on your tone and perhaps even throw in an emoji or two. However, don’t go to town too much on your relaxed approach and start abbreviating 2 txt tlk, or sending the dreaded (and often sexist/racist) email chain and joke spam.

Nobody wants them anymore.


Capslock Is the Email Equivalent of Shouting

When you REALLY want to drive a point HOME, you MIGHT be tempted to use CAPSLOCK to emphasise your POINT – you know, just so they REALLY get it, and know how SERIOUS THIS IS!
Multiple exclamation marks should also be avoided, unless immediately preceding a compliment or piece of good news.

You shouldn’t physically yell at any colleague or client, so don’t do it in email form. This type of ‘angry email’ along with any other aggressive or blunt language is exceptionally unprofessional and won’t do you any favours. In-fact, the imagery accompanying this type of email is reminiscent of a toddler tantrum and has no place in the business space. Count to ten, rub your earlobes, breathe deeply; do anything to bring your emotions to a state of calm before addressing anyone. Your future-self (and everyone else for that matter), will thank you later. If you really want to express your dissatisfaction, you can take the passive path and remove ‘kind’ from your ‘kind regards’ signoff and allow yourself that small expression.

That’ll show ‘em.


‘Reply All’ in Moderation, Or Not at All

You may have experienced it; that feeling of amusement quickly followed by dread when you realise your fabulously witty and smart-arse response that was only supposed to go to one recipient, went back to the entire group. The basic rule of thumb to remember here, is that if you wouldn’t want your message falling into the wrong hands, don’t write it at all.  

Maybe you’ve also found yourself stuck in the notorious ‘reply all’ loop, where you have no idea why you’re still being CCd into the conversation. It’s virtually the equivalent of a Facebook group chat; 5% practical, 95% irrelevant and incessant conversation. Remember to limit your recipients to whom the information is actually essential. Anyone else you involve is just a pointless passenger on the ‘FYI’ boat.


Actually Respond. It Takes Two Minutes

Whether someone sends you an email with information you requested, information that is of use to you, or even just cold-canvassing, the very least you can do is acknowledge it. You probably know what it’s like to be on the receiving end (or lack thereof in this case) of someone you’ve emailed and haven’t even received a meagre ‘thank you’ from them. It takes a couple of minutes to acknowledge someone’s efforts in communicating with you, and whether you respond is actually a strong reflection of how you do business. You wouldn’t ignore them in person, so why give them the silent, blank stare digital equivalent? It doesn’t matter one iota how far up the food chain you are, don’t be the self-important jerk who never responds.

Editor’s note: This advice is not to be confused with an encouragement of using the ‘read receipt’ function. Unless you’re emailing tremendously important and sensitive information, the read receipt button needs to stay buried amongst all the other functions whose purpose eludes you on your email client. Overuse of this function is basically you saying “I need to know EXCATLY when and if you’ve read this email, and if you don’t respond immediately, I’ll assume you’re ignoring me and act accordingly…with CAPSLOCK!”


Proofread, Edit, Proofread Again

It doesn’t matter whether you’re sending one sentence, or writing the ‘War and Peace’ of emails; you need to edit and proofread. We’re not just talking about your spelling and grammar, but your overall tone, syntax, and flow of the message. A well-thought out email can spell the difference between a bombardment of replies requesting clarification, the resounding silence of a confused/bored/disinterested recipient, or a satisfied audience who have all the information they need. Also, to put it bluntly, don’t forget to attach the attachment!

Don’t get us wrong, a quick proofread for minor errors can be just as important. We know from experience. Here’s an actual email that may or may not have been sent by the author at some point in her early career.

Warning! Profanity imminent!

“Hi fake client name for confidentiality purposes,

I just spoke to someone on site and fake worker hasn’t turned up to his shit.

I’ll give him a buzz to find out what happened. Just to confirm, he does have a fucklift licence, so he’s fine to jump on it in the warehouse.”

That was a double-whammy of accidental and inappropriate typos in an email sent in haste and lacking a good proofread. Luckily, the recipient had a cracking sense of humour.


In Conclusion…

Every email you send should be subject to careful scrutiny and self-assessment. In some cases, consulting a colleague or hiring a trusted associate (*ahem* Witty Wordsmith) can be the best course of action to ensuring your message is on-point, appropriate, and relevant.

Your professional profile, business image, and even your relationships can depend on it.