Guide to good email etiquette

£ 5

Good standards of email communication maintains professionalism, efficiency and reduces risk.

You may consider implementing etiquette rules for the following three reasons:

  • Professionalism: by using proper email language your Company will convey a professional image.
  • Efficiency: emails that get to the point are much more effective than poorly worded emails.
  • Protection from liability: employee awareness of what may be considered poor behaviour displayed in emails will protect your Company from risk.

What is this guide for?

The purpose of this Guide to good email etiquette is to provide you with a flexible and customisable document to serve as a robust and effective starting point for you.

By using our Guide to good email etiquette, you can streamline your process, maintain consistency and accuracy, and save time, and it can be easily adapted to fit your specific scenario.

Specifications

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Time to read / prep / use
10 mins
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1213 words, 3 pages A4
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Date last reviewed
1 June 2024
guide to good email etiquette

Guide to good email etiquette

Email etiquette refers to the principles of behaviour that one should use when writing or answering email messages.

Bad email etiquette reflects badly on us, and a record of this is kept in mailboxes over which we have no control. Good email etiquette reflects well on us, improves our public perception and persona and increases the chance of a prompt and comprehensive response. It’s not hard to maintain good email etiquette once we know what it is. 

Here are some important rules to follow when using email:

1. Delete spam!

Whilst we have robust spam filters in place, sometimes spam emails may reach our inbox. If you reply or ‘unsubscribe’, you are confirming that your email address is 'live' and it will generate even more spam. Therefore, just hit the delete button

2. Don't forward virus hoaxes or chain letters

If you receive an email message warning you of a new unstoppable virus that will immediately delete everything from your computer, this is most probably a hoax. By forwarding hoaxes you use valuable bandwidth and sometimes virus hoaxes contain viruses themselves, by attaching a so-called file that will stop the dangerous virus. The same goes for chain letters that promise incredible riches or ask your help for a charitable cause. Even if the content seems to be bona fide, the senders are usually not. Since it is impossible to find out whether a chain letter is real or not, the best place for it is the bin.

3. Be concise and to the point

Do not make an email longer than it needs to be. Remember that a long or waffly email can be very discouraging to read.

4. Answer all questions and pre-empt further questions

An email reply must attempt to answer any questions raised and pre-empt further questions. If you don’t do this, you will likely receive further emails regarding the unanswered questions, which will not only waste your time and the senders time but also potentially cause frustration. Moreover, if you are able to pre-empt relevant questions, the receiver of your response will be grateful and impressed with your efficient and thoughtful customer service. Imagine for instance that a customer sends you an email asking which credit cards you accept. Instead of just listing the credit card types, you can guess that their next question will be about how they can order, so you also include some order information and a URL to your order page. Customers will definitely appreciate this.

5. Use proper spelling, grammar & punctuation

Unprofessional spelling, grammar and punctuation give a bad impression of you and the Company. It is also important for conveying the message properly. Emails with no full stops or commas are difficult to read and can sometimes even change the meaning of the text. Use a spell checker before pressing send!

6. Be responsive and answer swiftly

Aim to respond to emails quickly, even if it is to state when the original sender will expect a full response (if the question or answer is complex).

7. Use a meaningful subject

Try to use a subject that is meaningful to the recipient as well as yourself. For instance, when you send an email to a company requesting information about a product, it is better to mention the actual name of the product, e.g. 'Product A information' than to just say 'product information' or the company's name in the subject. Link the subject to the content of the email so that it is not ignored.

8. Do not attach unnecessary files

Sending large attachments uses up valuable bandwidth and can delay your message. Wherever possible try to compress attachments and only send them when they are productive.

9. Use proper structure & layout

Use short paragraphs and blank lines between each paragraph. When making specific points, use bullets or number them.

10. Do not overuse the high priority option

If you overuse the high importance/priority option, it will lose its function when you really need it. Use the function sparingly as your message may come across as slightly aggressive if you flag it as 'high' and it is not.

11. Do not write in CAPITALS

IF YOU WRITE SENTENCES IN CAPITALS IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can be highly annoying and might trigger an inflamed response! Therefore, do not send any email text as full capitals

12. Read the email before you send it

Reading your email through the eyes of the recipient before sending it to them will help you send a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate comments.

Never make any libellous, sexist or racially discriminating comments in emails, even if they are meant to be a joke.

13. Do not overuse Reply to All

Only use Reply to All if you really need your response to be seen by each person who received the original message. If not, don’t do it.

14. Take care with abbreviations and emoticons

In business emails, try not to use abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) and LOL (laugh out loud). The recipient might not be aware of the meanings of the abbreviations and in business emails these are generally not appropriate. The same goes for emoticons, such as the smiley :-). If you are not sure whether your recipient knows what it means (or would appreciate it), it is better not to use it.

15. Be careful with formatting

When you use formatting in your emails, the sender might not be able to view formatting, or might see different fonts than you had intended. When using colours, use a colour that is easy to read on the background.

16. Do not request delivery and read receipts

This isn’t a reliable function as the recipient could have blocked it, or his/her software might not support it If you want to know whether an email was received it is better to ask the recipient within your email to confirm to you that it was received.

17. Do not ask to recall a message

Recalling messages is a handy function but it’s not always reliable. If you send an email containing an error, it is better just to send a further email to say that you have made a mistake. This will look much more honest than trying to recall a message.

18. Avoid using URGENT and IMPORTANT

Even more so than the high-priority option, you must at all times try to avoid these types of words in an email or subject line. Only use this if it is a really, really urgent or important message.

19. Know the Difference Between To, CC and BCC in an Email

When you select the contacts you are emailing you can place them in one of three fields:

  • To: - Put the email address here if it is for their attention and action
  • Cc: (Carbon Copy) - Put the email address(es) here if you are sending a copy for their information (and you want everyone to explicitly see this)
  • Bcc: (Blind Carbon Copy) - Put the email address here if you are sending them a Copy and you do not want the other recipients to see that you sent it to this contact (however, the use of this should be avoided).

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