The top 15 business email etiquette rules
As people, we tend to communicate over email in ways we wouldn’t in person. It’s easy to slip into the habit of writing emails informally with abbreviations, slang, and poor grammar.
But this is where embarrassing mistakes can occur: mistakes that can have serious business consequences. This makes learning email etiquette, especially email signature etiquette, important for any business professional. You can’t use the relative anonymity of email as an excuse for behaving poorly.
Here are 15 business email etiquette rules to follow for achieving a positive impression with your contacts.
1. Don’t write everything in capitals
Writing in capitals implies you’re shouting and can appear aggressive. If the email is important, consider other ways to convey your message.
2. BCC recipients or use a mail merge
This is one of the most common email etiquette mistakes people make. Never place all email addresses in the “To:” field if you are sending to lots of contacts. Otherwise, everyone will see everyone else’s email address, which can be very annoying when viewing a message on a mobile device. Also, most people won’t want their email address shared publicly like this.
Instead, use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field, making email addresses invisible to all recipients. Alternatively, you can do a mail merge in your email client to send a unique message to everyone on your list.
3. Never discuss confidential information
Emails are easy to copy, print, and forward. They’re also surprisingly easy to intercept by malicious outside parties. If the information is highly sensitive, don’t send it over email. As far as email etiquette ideas go, confidentiality should always be paramount.
Even if the email isn’t forwarded, company management will see if you’re sending inappropriate messages and not using proper email etiquette.
Email also carries with it a certain level of legality. If you’re sent an email saying you’ve let someone down, don’t send a reply to defend yourself. You’ll just put yourself in a weaker negotiating position.
4. Be careful using abbreviations or emoticons
You wouldn’t use slang when speaking to another professional in person. Email etiquette dictates that the same is true over email.
Abbreviations like LOL (Laugh Out Loud) or BRB (Be Right Back) are for instant messages with friends, not business. Some people may also not understand abbreviations and just get confused.
Emoticons may be a fun way to show emotions, but they can look very unprofessional. It’s better to say what you mean instead.
5. Don’t request delivery and read receipts
This is email etiquette 101! Read receipts are guaranteed to annoy recipients before they even read your message.
Also, they don’t always work as intended. Some recipients may block the receipt function, or their email software might not support them. If you want to know if a recipient has received your email, ask them directly.
6. Include a clear, direct subject line
A good subject line might be “Meeting date changed” or “Suggestions for the proposal.” Many recipients will open your email based on the subject line alone. This means choosing one that lets them know you are addressing their business concerns.
7. Use a professional email address
Remember you represent your company with every email you send. So, never use a personal email account when sending work-related emails.
Imagine what a professional client would think if they saw your email address from college. If someone emailed you with the address “party-monster@”, would you seriously want to do business with them?
8. Use exclamation points sparingly
Only use exclamation points to convey excitement. Otherwise, you come across as too sensitive, aggressive, or immature.
The basis of email etiquette mandates that you don’t appear too emotional when messaging. You are sending business emails, not messages to your friends, so it is essential to be as professional as possible.
9. Be careful when using humor
Humor can easily get lost in translation over email. Recipients don’t have facial expressions, body language, or tone of voice to guide them.
Also, remember that just because you find something funny doesn’t mean the recipient will. Leave humor out if there’s a risk you might offend someone. The worst email etiquette ideas are ones that offend people.
10. Understand that different cultures speak and write differently
Cultural differences can cause miscommunication, especially in writing. You need to tailor your message and email etiquette to consider the recipient’s cultural background.
High-context cultures such as Arabic, Chinese or Japanese want to get to know you before they conduct business with you. Business associates will often be more personal in how they write, meaning your email etiquette should be polite and personable.
However, low-context cultures like German, American, or Scandinavian get to the point quickly with less emphasis on personalization. Therefore, your email etiquette should be professional and informative.
11. Use proper grammar and punctuation
Proper sentence structure is important when writing a professional email. Using correct grammar and punctuation is the first place to start.
Writing a text message or an email in lowercase is fine if it’s to a friend. However, when emailing a colleague or business associate, always starting each sentence with a capital letter.
Title case can be used for the subject line where every word’s first letter is capitalized. This can help make your subject line stand out more.
12. Remember your tone
You should use formal language when emailing new contacts as it shows courtesy and respect. Until you build up a friendly relationship, it’s best to avoid writing informally.
When contacting someone for the first time, address them by their full name. Analyze their reply to gauge whether you can just use their first name in later messages.
Stay formal when signing off your emails by saying “Thank you,” “Kind regards,” “All the best,” or “Sincerely.”
13. Check the formatting of the email
Presentation over email is key, and over-formatting equals poor presentation. You want your message to be easy to read. Using multiple font sizes and colors is terrible email etiquette.
Standard font size of 10pt or 12pt is the only size that should be used in emails. Keep font colors simple; black is the easiest color to read on all devices.
Make sure to use web-safe fonts such as Arial or Calibri as they are easy to read. If you use a custom font, it may not be installed on your recipient’s device. This may cause the text to automatically change to a default like Times New Roman.
Avoid making your text bold, italicized, or underlined unless 100% necessary. It can appear rude or pushy. Instead, use words to emphasize your point.
14. Proofread everything you send
Double-check everything before you hit send on every email. Mistakes like typos tend to get noticed. Even if you’re in a rush, it takes less time to proofread compared to apologizing for a mistake you’ve made.
This goes for mobile emails too. Having a signature saying “Sorry for any typos” is poor email etiquette and doesn’t cut it in today’s business world. It’s also wise to add the email address you’re sending to last, so you don’t accidentally send your message before you’re ready.
15. Include a professional email signature
The recipient will want to know who you are. So, give them your contact details through a professional email signature. Email signature etiquette says that the bare minimum should be your full name, job title, company name, phone number, and email address. This applies to both desktop and mobile emails. This improves your email etiquette, as you provide recipients with an easy way to contact you.
You can add elements like promotional banners and social media links if appropriate. However, remember that you must always remain professional and conform to the email etiquette ideas and tips highlighted in this article.