Business Email Etiquette

Etiquette rules may vary depending upon the nature of the business or industry, but there are general guidelines that never waver. This article focuses upon these rules and provides advice for any professional who uses email as a form of business communication.

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar

When it comes to written communication, nothing is more important than proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Poor spelling is unprofessional. Just about every email program has a spell check option. Use it- just don’t depend on it completely. Spell check will not catch the difference between your and you’re or their and there or is and if. You should always proofread your work before you let anyone else see it. While you’re looking at spelling, check your grammar and punctuation. Emails with no full stops or commas are difficult to read. A lack of punctuation can even change the meaning of the text.

Capitalization

WHEN YOU WRITE IN ALL CAPS, IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can be highly annoying or worse yet, it can be mistaken as a “flame” (nasty email).

not using any caps is just as bad. it looks juvenile at best.

Always use proper capitalization in your emails, just as you would with any other business writing.

Abbreviations and Emoticons

In business emails, you should never use abbreviations, such as BTW (by the way) or LOL (laugh out loud). They are generally considered inappropriate because the recipient may not be aware of the meanings. The same goes for emoticons 🙂

Rich Text and HTML

Be very careful when sending an email in rich text or HTML format. Most email programs, including Microsoft Outlook, are able to receive HTML and rich text messages, but some recipients can only receive plain text emails. If this is the case, the recipient will receive your message as a .txt attachment.

Subject

Try to use a subject that reflects the contents of your email. The subject should make sense to the recipient without them having to open the email. Do not be cutesy and do not use all caps in the subject line. Many spam blocker programs flag things like all caps, sexually-charged words, and even words like “free” or “urgent”.

Length

Be as clear and concise as possible. A long-winded email can be discouraging to read. Try to keep sentences to a maximum of 15-20 words. Email is meant to be a quick medium and requires a different kind of writing than the average letter. Never make your email longer than it needs to be.

Speed

When people send an email, it is typically because they want a quick response. Therefore, an email should be replied to within 24 hours or better yet, within the same business day. If your reply is going to be complicated or time consuming, just send an email back verifying that you have received the communication and indicating that you will be replying in more detail as soon as possible.

Priority

Do not overuse the high priority flag. You will look like either the boy who cried wolf or an over-aggressive schmuck. Unless your message is truly an emergency, don’t flag it as such.

Threads

If you hit the reply button when sending an email, the original email will be included in the reply. This is not a bad thing. By replying to an email, rather than starting a new mail thread, your recipient has a clear view of the previous correspondence. This can be much more convenient than searching for previous threads.

Attachments

Never attach unnecessary files. Sending large files can annoy recipients, flood their inbox, and possibly cause damage to their system. Try to compress attachments when possible or publish the information to the web and offer URLs.

Chain Mail

Never forward chain letters. It is safe to say that the majority of them are hoaxes. By forwarding these hoaxes, you use valuable bandwidth and you also run the risk of spreading computer viruses. Even when the content seems bona fide, the senders are usually not. The best place for a chain letter is the recycle bin. No exceptions.

Never send or forward emails containing libelous, defamatory, offensive, racist, or obscene content. By sending offensive remarks in your email, you and your company can face charges and fines. What is funny to you may not be funny to someone else.

Spam

Never unsubscribe or reply to spam. All that does is verify your email address. If you confirm that you have a live address, your spam will increase. Good spam-blocking software is all you need.

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