Email Etiquette 101
By Hazel Bernez
Most of us write one email per day. At least. Even on weekends. As with anything else that is routine, it is easy to become complacent and send emails without really considering how well they are crafted and whether they serve their intended purpose. What’s the sense in writing an email that doesn’t get read? Or that doesn’t go to the right recipient? Or that doesn’t actually address the issue at hand? To save you from any of these undesirable situations, we’ve created a quick guide for you to review before you hit “Send”.
To: First thing you see - last thing you fill in! Yep. This can save you embarrassment when you accidentally:
- send an unfinished, unproofed, untimely message to the wrong person(s) or,
- if you hadn’t realized that the person you’re about to unload on has, in fact, sent you what you’ve been waiting for all They did. This morning. It’s right there, amongst the other 17 pieces of unread mail you were avoiding.
If this “To” area isn’t filled in, there are no accidents. Sigh of relief!
Subject: Already discussed, brilliantly, in another blog, by Laura Lee, here.
Cc rule: If someone is a primary recipient of an email and is expected to respond, they go in the “To” field.
If someone is not a primary recipient of the email and is not expected to respond, they go in the “cc” field. Simple. That’s it.
Dear [name] - too formal. Save this for written letters, or for legal email, or for cover letters when you’re job hunting (best not done while at work and another reason to delay filling in the “To” field).
Hi [name] - best format; it’s friendly and doesn’t cause offense. “Hi again,'' also works, especially if it’s a follow-on email in a thread. Do not greet with “Hi” too many times in a single thread. A good rule of thumb is once per day per thread. Don’t, however, take this rule as a reason to jump into the body of your message without a proper greeting or introduction.
Body: If your email has too much information, consider cutting the details and pasting them into an attached Word document. Your original intent or call to action will be clear in the email. When the recipient is ready to read the details, they’re available via the attachment. Tip: make sure attachments are named appropriately, and not with a bunch of obscure letters and numbers. The name should be relevant to the conversation and the “Subject” line, making it easy to find when someone is looking for it days after your email was originally sent.
If someone asks you a question from a previous email and you do not understand, never be so concise that you put in a “?” and send the email. This isn’t concise; it’s rude; oddly though, it’s okay in a text! Remember, in email, non-verbal communication cues can’t be seen by the other person and you can start a lot of trouble with a “?” or a “!”
Reply/Reply all: Imagine this (possibly familiar) scenario: You have a multi-thread email containing input from people who were originally in the “To” category. Someone replies to only one of the “To” senders and leaves everyone else off the thread. Team members miss an entire piece of the conversation and continue to miss subsequent communications, unaware of what has happened, wondering why email has suddenly gone quiet. It’s only when these puzzled or frustrated colleagues reach out, wondering what’s happening in the project, that you (may) discover the mistake. Finding a specific thread or getting re-integrated into a chain can be its own tail-chasing misery.
“Reply” is primarily used on a one-to-one basis. “Reply All” is used when information needs to be shared amongst multiple people who will be impacted by the latest news. “Reply All” also works if the entire team has been asked to respond with feedback that affects the group. However, if a team member sends out a company-wide email advising that there are muffins in the kitchen, do not use “Reply All” with your joyous “Yippee! So hungry!!” Slack would have been a better format for that muffin announcement than email anyway!
Best wishes, or All the best - perfect closings that work every time.
BW - never.
Yours sincerely, Yours truly - too formal and cloying.
Yours - too intimate.
Cheers - this is not a bar, it’s work. This is too informal in a business context.
Kind regards - Old-fashioned.
Thanks. Thanks, Thanks! - an exclamation works wonders. A comma is second best.
Thanks in advance - presumptive and puts the recipient in a position to …. do something - without the opportunity to ask questions. If you need to have resolution or action on a request, ask for that in the body of the email - a good old call to action.
I appreciate your help with _________! - is a kinder, less manipulative closing than the “Thanks in advance” option. It shows you consider and value the other person’s time and assistance. It also has a we’re-both-in-this-together tone to it. Collaboration works!
Over 2-3 lines, provide your name, your title, and a clickable link to your company website. If you prefer to communicate by phone, then include the best number for that purpose. There is no need to list alternate email addresses, LinkedIn profile, fancy font that may be missed by the mail server, personal blog site, and a deep and meaningful quote (to you only). As an act of service to your audience, you might also want to use this section to include a link to a helpful piece of content.
Story Wrangler, Communications