email etiquette tips

Write carefully. Once you send an email message, you cannot take it back or make it disappear. The reality is that your messages may be saved for a very long time. They may also be read inadvertently by others, or forwarded to others without your knowledge.

Some tips on email etiquette

1. Subject line to summarize the message

Make the Subject line summarize the body of the e-mail. Ask yourself, ‘will the recipient(s) know what this e-mail is about’. For example, Instead of Subject: Exam, say Subject: Location of 1508INT Exam, 23 July 05.

2. Start with a salutation

Your email should open by addressing the person you’re writing to. Sure, you can get away with leaving out the salutation when you’re dashing off an email to your friend, but business-like messages should begin with:

  • Dear Mr Jones, or Dear Professor Smith, (for someone you don’t know well, especially if they’re a superior)
  • Dear Joe, or Dear Mandy, (if you have a working relationship with the person)

It’s fine to use “Hi Joe”, “Hello Joe” or just the name followed by a comma (“Joe,”) if you know the person well – writing “Dear Joe” to one of your team-mates will look odd!

Addressing more than one person, “Dear Mr. Jones, Mr. Smith”

3. Don’t assume the recipient knows the background

Include enough contextual information at the beginning of the e-mail for the recipient to know what the matter is about. If in doubt, put background information in. For example, don’t say can I have an extension for my assignment?, instead say I refer to the CIT3622 assignment 1 that I handed in late. I was ill and have a doctor’s certificate. May I ask for an extension on the basis that I was too ill to do it on time?

May be start something like this,

Background: blah, blah blah

4. Write in short paragraphs/concise

Get straight to the point – don’t waste time waffling. Split your email into two to four short paragraphs, each one dealing with a single idea. Consider using bullet-points for extra clarity, perhaps if you are:

  • Listing several questions for the recipient to answer
  • Suggesting a number of alternative options
  • Explaining the steps that you’ll be carrying out

Put a double line break, rather than an indent (tab), between paragraphs.

5. Stick to one topic

If you need to write to someone about several different issues (for example, if you’re giving your boss an update on Project X, asking him for a review meeting to discuss a pay rise, and telling him that you’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Friday), then don’t put them all in the same email. It’s hard for people to keep track of different email threads and conversations if topics are jumbled up.

6. Correct punctuate and grammar

Use punctuation in a normal manner. One exclamation point is just as effective as five !!!!! Use correct grammar as with any written message.

7. Use capitals appropriately

Emails should follow the same rules of punctuation as other writing. Capitals are often misused. In particular, you should:

  • Never write a whole sentence (or worse, a whole email) in capitals
  • Always capitalise “I” and the first letter of proper nouns (names)
  • Capitalise acronymns (USA, BBC, RSPCA)
  • Always start sentences with a capital letter.

This makes your email easier to read: try retyping one of the emails you’ve received in ALL CAPS or all lower case, and see how much harder it is to follow!

8. Don’t shout at people or threaten them

Don’t use all capital letters, (UPPERCASE), or oversized fonts. The reader will likely feel they are being shouted at, or even threatened. If you must use UPPERCASE, use it very sparingly and only to emphasise a particularly important point. Ask yourself, ‘if I was talking to the recipient face to face, would I be raising my voice to them?’ One way to add emphasis is to enclose the word/phrase with an asterisk, for example “It is *important* not to shout at people by using UPPERCASE”. Large sized fonts (greater than 12) are useful for people with visual impairment, but are not appropriate for general use.

9. Avoid angry outbursts

Don’t send or reply to email when you are angry. Wait until you have calmed down, then compose the email. Once written and sent, it can’t be recalled. Angry or intemperate email has a way of rebounding on the sender. As a guide, ask yourself, ‘would I say this to the person’s face?’

10. Sign off the email

For short internal company emails, you can get away with just putting a double space after your last paragraph then typing your name. If you’re writing a more formal email, though, it’s essential to close it appropriately.

  • Use Yours sincerely, (when you know the name of your addressee) and Yours faithfully, (when you’ve addressed it to “Dear Sir/Madam”) for very formal emails such as job applications.
  • Use Best regards, or Kind regards or With regards, in most other situations.
  • Even when writing to people you know well, it’s polite to sign off with something such as “All the best,” “Take care,” or “Have a nice day,” before typing your name.

11. Use a sensible email signature

Hopefully this is common sense – but don’t cram your email signature with quotes from your favorite TV show, motivational speaker or witty friend. Do include your name, email address, telephone number and postal address (where appropriate) – obviously, your company may have some guidelines on these.

It makes it easy for your correspondents to find your contact details: they don’t need to root through for the first message you sent them, but can just look in the footer of any of your emails.

Putting it all together

Compare the following two job applications. The content of the emails are identical – but who would you give the job to?

i’ve attached my resume i would be grateful if you could read it and get back to me at your earliest convenience. i have all the experience you are looking for – i’ve worked in a customer-facing environment for three years, i am competent with ms office and i enjoy working as part of a team. thanks for your time

Or

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’ve attached my resume. I would be grateful if you could read it and get back to me at your earliest convenience. I have all the experience you are looking for:

  • I’ve worked in a customer-facing environment for three years
  • I am competent with MS office
  • I enjoy working as part of a team

Thanks for your time.

Yours faithfully,

Jones.

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