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11 Professional Email Etiquette Tips That Are so Simple, People Often Forget

Jule Romans has over 30 years of experience researching and writing on educational topics. She presently works in State Government.

Email is everywhere, but are you doing it right?

Email is everywhere, but are you doing it right?

11 very simple email etiquette tips will keep your emails professional and enhance your impact. These tips are so simple, yet many people overlook them. Use these and stand out from the crowd as a real professional.

1. Keep the Subject Line Clear

The subject line is the first thing your reader will see. Be sure that it is carefully worded with appropriate respect for the person’s position. Keep the subject line as clear and as short as possible, without sacrificing content.

This is a very difficult thing to do well. It is recommended that you review the subject line after completing the email. Make any adjustments needed.

Above all, be polite in the subject line of an email. The subject line is not the place to attempt to grab attention, make demands, or engage in inappropriate humor. A good rule of thumb is to never put anything in the subject line that would offend a traditional reader. It’s better to be safe than to come across as unprofessional.

2. Use Salutations

Salutations are not the place to get creative. Keep them simple, predictable, and as formal as possible in the given circumstances. Use colons or commas for punctuation. Do not use exclamation marks or ellipses in the salutation of a professional email.

Formal salutations include the following terms, always followed by an honorific and last name.

  • Dear Ms. Smith:
  • Good Morning, Dr. Jones:
  • Good Afternoon, Mr. Clark:

In some situations, you may opt to simply use the person’s formal name, followed by a colon. This option runs the risk of sounding cold, but can work well in some situations.

  • Ms. Smith:
  • Dr. Jones:
  • Mr. Clark:

Informal salutations contain a greeting and the person's first name.

  • Dear Mary:
  • Hello John,
  • Good Morning, Jennifer:

In the same way, you may also choose to use the person’s first name, or simply the greeting. Use a colon or comma, based on what is appropriate for the situation.

  • Hello:
  • Good Morning,
  • John,
  • Mary:

3. Use Formal Salutations With Superiors

Good professional email etiquette requires that you use a salutation every time, until such time as you are having an informal exchange. Even in a reply to a reply to a reply, avoid the temptation to simply type a single word or sentence.

The exception to this rule is if your superior has dropped the salutation themselves. At that point, they may be signaling that they want simple clear information without a lot of clutter. In that case, respond appropriately, but maintain a highly respectful tone in all interactions. If your superior is still using salutations, be sure that you do the same.

In short, follow the lead of anyone who is in a higher position than you are, and use a formal salutation when in doubt.

4. Use Informal Salutations With Colleagues

Always show your colleagues the respect of a salutation. A simple “Hi (name),” or “Good Morning:” will suffice. If it is a professional email, do not simply begin with the content even if you are writing to a friend or close coworker.

For colleagues you do not already know, it is considered more professional to use a colon after the salutation. For colleagues with whom you are already acquainted, using a comma is a way to signal a more informal or closer relationship.

Feel free to use informal salutations with close co-workers or friends, but do be sure to use them, especially if your email is business-focused.

5. Be Pleasant and Focused

Make sure your first sentence sounds positive and engaging. Read it over after your finish writing the whole email, and adjust as necessary. Remember that words in emails do not carry tone the same way as spoken language will. Keep the tone positive, but professional.

Avoid unnecessary phrases like “hope you are well.” These phrases are more personal in nature, and do not add to the content of your message. Instead, opt for phrases that sound more professional, but also carry a positive tone.

6. Do Not Use Emojis

Tone is difficult to determine in an email. Emojis provide tone in personal and less formal contexts, but they are not appropriate for a business or professional email.

If you are concerned about how your message may be received, rewrite your words and sentences. Have a close colleague read the email before you send it. Get feedback. Take a break and come back. Do anything you need to do to make the overall tone of your email effective; just don’t use an emoji.

7. Keep Paragraphs Short

Email paragraphs should be about 3 sentences long. If necessary, paragraphs can be expanded to 5 sentences, but don’t do this very often. Email communication should be focused, clear, and not overwhelming to your reader.

Use bullet points and bold print sparingly to provide focus and make it easy for your reader to skim for your main points. If you have a lot to say, consider using an attachment.

8. Address a Single Issue

Whenever you can, keep your email communications focused on a single issue. If you have a number of different topics to address, consider creating an overarching subject and using a numbered or bullet-point list. If you do this, keep the list to no more than 5 items.

If you must address a range of unrelated questions all at once, maybe it is better to set an appointment and discuss in person.

9. Use an Effective Closing

Sign your name simply and add a professional email signature that includes all necessary contact information. Do not add extra information after your professional email signature. Especially do not include any unnecessary or extraneaous information in a professional email. This includes quotations, graphics, aSCII characters, emojis, or photographs of your family members.

10. Do Not Use a P.S.

A P.S., otherwise known as a “Post Script,” is for additional thoughts that are added after a letter has been finished and signed. The use of a P.S. originated when written communication was done on paper with limited opportunity for editing once a letter was finished. Since email allows for plenty of editing, don’t use a P.S. Go back and edit your email to add the needed information

11. Know When NOT to Send an Email

Your message may be better delivered in person, through a phone call, or with a longer document. It’s also possible that it might be better as a presentation, informal discussion, or chat. Think of email as a medium-length, formal communication tool. If what you have to say is very short and informal, a chat may serve the purpose better.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jule Romans

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