Seven Tips For Better Business Email Etiquette

I recently received an email from a reader who asked for some advice on email etiquette.

At first, I thought that topic would be too far afield for this blog. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that email etiquette is relevant for a media training blog, since the etiquette one uses when communicating with reporters (and others) can help form a positive impression—or not.

Still, this topic is a bit outside of my day-to-day expertise. Therefore, I’m going to offer several tips on the topic, but would ask you to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

Man using his mobile phone

1. Don’t Use A Busy Template

My biggest pet peeve is the type of background below. To make these templates even more difficult to read, some people use a patterned background, occasionally with a ribbon extending down the left or right margin for additional adornment.

I appreciate the attempt at originality, but just like with PowerPoint, just because the features allow you to do this doesn’t mean you should.

Bad Email Template

2. Run Spell Check

I’m forgiving if someone accidentally uses “your” instead of “you’re,” or something similar. Both are actual words, and a spell check program could miss their intended usage. But there’s just no excuse for not running a spell check on your emails before clicking send. Emails with numerous spelling errors send one message: “I’m unprofessional.”

3. Maintain The Right Level of Formality

I’m not going to bemoan our social media era, in which many people type texts and IMs without capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, fail to use proper punctuation, etc. Sending an IM to a buddy doesn’t require much formality, and it’s up to your peer set to decide what style works best. But bringing those same traits to a professional setting sends the wrong message, as they doesn’t match the requisite level of formality.

As an example, if someone I’m familiar with doesn’t begin an email with “Hi Brad” or “Dear Brad,” that’s fine—it’s okay to jump right in if we’ve already established a relationship. But a stranger who makes their first contact with me by just beginning to talk without a greeting? Well, that just doesn’t make a great first impression.

4. Get To The Point

The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, estimates that business end users send and receive an estimated 126 emails per day. That’s on top of the messages they receive through social media, phone calls, and snail mail. It’s a good idea to be mindful of that when sending emails to another party. When reviewing your email before you send it, ask yourself this question: “This person will read or send 125 other emails today. Am I respecting this person’s time by making my point clear, simplifying the communication, and removing unnecessary content?”

5. Include a Signature Line

When I want to call people, follow them on Twitter, or mail something to them, one of the first places I look is to the signature section at the bottom of their email. Surprisingly, many people don’t include one. I personally include my email signature in every new email and when responding to someone for the first time in every new email chain.

Brad Email Signaure

6. Use Your Professional Email Address

Use your professional email address when sending work-related emails [Insert your Hillary Clinton joke here]. It could send an unintentional message when you use a Gmail or Yahoo account in a professional setting. In my case, I sometimes wonder, “If this person is the vice president of operations for their company and wants media training, why are they using an AOL account? Is he pursuing the training independent of his company? Does he not want his company to know? Is he really who he says he is?”

7. Decide Whether Email Is The Best Format

I recently received an email from a professional partner that contained some upsetting news. I kept typing back a response, deleting it, starting over again, and deleting it again. Everything I typed sounded more aggressive than I intended it to, and I was struggling with finding the right words. Then I realized why: This conversation would be better for both parties if it was conducted as a phone call rather than through email. Before clicking “send,” ask yourself whether the medium itself is ideal for your message. Sometimes, the best email etiquette means knowing when not to send one at all.

What tips would you add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.