Ninety two percent of Internet users in the United States use e-mail. Since many of these e-mails are for business purposes, it’s important to know and use proper e-mail etiquette. While a lot of people understand the importance of following certain rules when writing a business letter, they often forget these rules when composing an e-mail message.
The basic rule of etiquette in any circumstance is to have and to show consideration for the other party. Stopping and thinking before sending or replying to a message will go a long way towards preventing misunderstandings and not giving offense. The simple test is, “How would I feel in these circumstances, if I received this message?”
Communicating by e-mail is no different than writing a letter on company letterhead. A certain degree of formality is required. When it comes to business e-mail communications, you need to make an impression that you are a credible professional. Listed below are some e-mail guidelines for sending, receiving and replying to messages.
Sending an E-mail
To: Both the sender's and recipient's names should be typed in formally and the letter casing should be done properly. Business e-mails should look professional. You should never fill in the “To” e-mail address until you have completely proofed your e-mail and are sure that it’s exactly the way you want it. This will keep you from accidentally sending an e-mail prematurely. It’s easy to accidentally click on the send icon, when you really meant to click on the attachment icon.
Cc: Cc stands for the carbon copy field and refers to the addresses to which you want to send a copy of the mail, besides the recipient. The recipient knows that other people are receiving a copy of the e-mail. The people included in the Cc filed should know why they are receiving a copy, and the copy of mails should never be sent without their knowledge and consent.
Bcc: Stands for blind carbon copy and should only be used when the sender doesn't want to disclose the fact to the recipient, that other people are also receiving a copy of the e-mail. It is also used to hide e-mail addresses when sending to a group of people. A long list of recipients is unsightly and most people do not feel comfortable with their e-mail address displayed to strangers.
Verify Your E-mail Addresses: Sending an e-mail to the wrong person or overlooking an e-mail address in a list of people is a common mistake.
The subject line is essential to your e-mail and every e-mail must include one. It should be kept short and precise and the use of all CAPS should be avoided. In most of the cases, the subject line decides whether a mail will be opened or not.
Your greeting should be pertinent to your message, not just “Hi” or “Hello.” The recipient is going to decide the order in which he reads e-mail based on who sent it and what it is about. If you launch into your e-mail without a greeting or introduction you run the risk of seeming impolite or impatient. Think of the basic rules you learned growing up, like saying please and thank you. Address people you don't know as Mr., Mrs., or Dr. Only address someone by first name if they imply it's okay to do so.
Body of the Mail
The body of an e-mail should always be treated as a formal communication. Informal language, the use of emoticons and the use of IM terminology should be avoided.
Choose the Tone of Your Message: Merriam-Webster defines tone as an, "accent or inflection expressive of a mood or emotion." It is very difficult to express tone in writing. You want to come across as respectful, friendly, and approachable. You don't want to sound curt or demanding. When you communicate with another person face-to-face, 93% of the message is non-verbal. E-mail has no body language. The reader cannot see your face or hear your tone of voice so choose your words carefully and thoughtfully.
Keep E-mails Short: Get to the point of your e-mail as quickly as possible, but don't leave out important details that will help your recipient answer your query. Keep the e-mail to one or two pages of text. Any longer, consider using an attachment.
Check Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation: Use a dictionary or a spell checker — whichever works better for you. While you can write in a conversational tone (contractions are okay), pay attention to basic rules of grammar. Re-read your documents before sending.
Be Professional: This means, stay away from abbreviations and don't use emoticons (those little smiley faces). Don't use a cute or suggestive e-mail address for business communications. Avoid using jokes, humor and sarcasm.
Don’t Argue or Send E-mails When Angry: Attempting to argue in an e-mail is futile. It’s best to wait before writing your e-mail, or even better give them a phone call.
Avoid Text Formatting: If your e-mail is more complicated than a few paragraphs of text (i.e. tables, graphs, graphics) it will probably be re-formatted incorrectly when read by the recipient. If you need to preserve the special formatting of your document; send it as a Word or PDF attachment.
Because of computer viruses, many people won't open attachments unless they know the sender. Even that can be a mistake because many viruses come disguised in e-mail messages from someone you know. Before sending an attachment, ask the recipient if you may do so.
The most common mistakes when attaching files are:
- Forgetting to actually attach the file
- Sending too large of an attachment
- Not telling the recipient to expect an attachment
- Not telling the recipient what type of file is attached
- Sending to a company that removes all attachments due to potential viruses
Create a Signature
Include a brief signature (i.e. name, address, phone number, e-mail address, company name, disclaimer, and website) on your e-mail messages. Avoid scanned images.
Reply, Reply to All and Forward
If possible, respond within 24 hours of receiving an e-mail. Send a quick e-mail if it will take you longer to reply.
Don’t Misuse Reply All
Be careful when replying to an entire mailing list. It’s rare that the entire mailing list needs to see your reply.
Unless you are asked or request permission, do not forward anything that was sent just to you.
Additional Tips to Remember
- E-mails are read at someone’s workplace. Don't send anything inappropriate for public viewing.
- E-mail is not private. While you may have intended only one person to read your e-mail, it can and will be read by others.
- Your work e-mail, both the address and all correspondence, is the property of the company. Refrain from sending personal e-mails. Anything you've ever sent or received – even if you've deleted it – can be retrieved from the system by a database administrator at any time.
- Don’t Always Use E-mail! Just because e-mail is easier, pick up the phone or meet in person. Don’t hide behind your computer monitor.