Email Etiquette

Rules for business correspondence

Woman typing email on computer
Using proper email etiquette is very important. Morsa Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Many people who send business correspondence by email do not realize there is a big difference between using it for that purpose and for communicating with friends and family. When you send a message to a buddy or relative, you can be pretty casual. You can use slang if you want or may even spice it up with inappropriate language if you know the recipient won't have a problem with that. In other words, you can write as if you were speaking to that person.

Business correspondence is quite different. Good email etiquette, actually business etiquette in general, dictates that you conduct yourself with professionalism. When you are too casual, use slang or inappropriate language, or send error-filled messages, it leaves a bad impression on the recipients of your message. Here are some basic rules of email etiquette.

Mind Your Manners

Even in a world where we seem always to be in a rush to get things done as quickly as possible so we can move on to the next task, good manners have not gone out of style. You will not sound old fashioned if you always use the words "please" and "thank you." Your recipient will appreciate your politeness.

Another way to show good manners is to address people you don't know, or only have a formal relationship with, by their title and last name, for example, Mr. White or Ms. Grey. If the recipient of your email prefers being called by his or her first name, he or she will probably correct you.

When replying to an email and the sender of the original message has used only his or her first name, then you can safely assume it's okay to use that person's first name as well.

Watch Your Tone

Tone is a speaker's, or in the case of email, writer's, way of expressing his or her attitude. It's a difficult thing to convey in writing, but you can usually achieve the correct tone by rereading your message several times before you hit send.

Make sure you come across as respectful, friendly and approachable. You don't want to sound curt or demanding.

If you're writing to someone with whom you've communicated before, begin with something friendly like "I hope you are well." Email writers often use emoticons or emoji to convey a particular feeling: happy, sad, confused or excited. Use good judgment here. If you write to someone frequently and have a less formal relationship with him, then emoticons and emoji can be okay. For official email, however, for example, when you're writing to a prospective employer, stick to words only.

It is always considered poor email etiquette to use all upper case letters. It looks like you are shouting. Do not use all lower case letters either. Some people say it will make it seem like you are mumbling.

Be Concise

Everyone's time is valuable, and you should respect that. Your recipient may have just a moment to read your email and respond to it. When composing your message, be as brief as possible while still making sure to include all pertinent information. Provide as many details as your reader will need to understand what you are trying to convey.

Avoid Using Texting Abbreviations

As a society that spends a lot of time on our phones texting, we have gotten accustomed to using abbreviations for any word two or more letters long.

We use U instead of you, UR instead of your, 2 instead of to or too, plz instead of please, and thx instead of thanks. That's fine if your recipient is a friend. Business email should be more formal. Of course, commonly used abbreviations such as Mr. and Mrs., FYI (for your information), inc., and etc. are fine.

Use a Professional Email Address

Always use the email address your employer assigned to you for work-related correspondence but avoid using it for anything else. For example, if you are job hunting, use a personal email account, but make sure your address looks professional. Consider what it says about you. Are you a or Maybe. But do you want a prospective employer to think so? Consider getting an address that uses your first initial and last name or your full name.

If you are so attached to your address that you do not want to change it, consider adding a second one for professional use only. If your ISP (Internet Service Provider) only provides a single address, look into getting a free account

Remember that Spelling and Grammar Count

Always proofread your email carefully. You want to be attentive to correct spelling and proper grammar. Use an automatic spell checker if you wish but be careful about relying on it too heavily. If you are using the wrong spelling for a particular use of a word, for example, two vs. to vs. too, it won't pick up your mistake. Don't try to guess the spelling of a word. You should look it up in a free online dictionary.

Good grammar is essential. You can use contractions when you want to convey a more conversational tone. Never use slang or any offensive language.