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Rules and Tips for Good Email Etiquette

Cynthia is a digital marketer, writer, and artist. She writes about a variety of topics, especially digital marketing, languages & culture.

Screenshot of inbox, with helpful tips.

Screenshot of inbox, with helpful tips.

As we progress deeper into the Digital Age, we are finding out that there are still rules of etiquette that we need to follow. The world of email also has specific rules of etiquette. Every time you send an email, you are also sending a message about yourself. People will make conclusions about you whether they know you or not, based on your writing.

If you follow these six rules of email etiquette, you’ll put your best foot forward. You can be confident that you will make a positive impression. These rules apply especially in the workplace.

Email Etiquette Rule #1: Make Sure Your Message Format Is Professional

  • When sending an email, use the appropriate salutation. You can address the person by name or even include “hello.”
  • Use gender-neutral language.
  • If this is the first time you are emailing someone and you don’t know who the person is, use the address, “Dear Sir or Ma’am.”
  • End the email with an appropriate ending such as thank you, sincerely, respectfully and other similar words.
  • Include an electronic signature with your name, title and email address and/or other methods of communication such as phone numbers, websites, etc.

Email Etiquette Rule #2: Keep Your Message Short

  • Include a subject so people will know what the message is about and they can determine the relevance of the email. If you do not put a subject in the subject line, your recipient may be wary and not check the message.
  • The body of the message should be short – get to the point immediately. A few sentences should be all that you need.
  • Your writing should include short sentences.
  • Write short paragraphs and use white space. That is, write for the internet.

Email Etiquette Rule #3: Use Professional Language

  • Email messages are less formal than writing letters, but don’t allow yourself to be sloppy.
  • Check for proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. Nothing undermines your credibility more than a message fraught with errors.
  • Avoid the overuse of emoticons. If you insert too many, you might compromise your professionalism. Some would argue that the use of emoticons in general is unprofessional.
  • Think about the wording in your message. It’s sometimes difficult to convey the tone of your meaning in writing. Avoid sarcasm because your reader can easily misconstrue this as an insult.
  • Avoid writing emotionally-charged messages. If you are in an emotional state, wait until you are in a more calm state of mind before attempting to write anything.
  • Using ALL CAPS implies that you’re yelling at someone. It’s also difficult to read.

Email Etiquette Rule #4: No Junk Messages

  • Sending junk email annoys people and may prompt them to block you.
  • Don’t attach unnecessary files. People are leery of attachments from unknown senders and rightfully so: they may contain viruses.
  • Avoid sending “forwards.” These messages are impersonal and often people will delete before reading.
  • Fancy fonts and backgrounds can be difficult to read and distract your reader. Your audience might take you less seriously as well. Who wants to be known as Curly Cue Sue – and this is not a reference to her hair.

Email Etiquette Rule #5: Email Is Not Private

  • You can still make messages personal, but be aware that other eyes may see your message.
  • Any message you send to someone is subject to being forwarded.
  • Only use the “CC” (copy to) function if that party needs to know the information at hand. Otherwise you’ll clutter someone’s inbox.
  • The “BCC” (blind copy) function is good for mass-mailings because the recipients won’t have to scroll through lots of email addresses. If you are secretly including someone in on a conversation, remember, email is NOT private.
  • Make sure that personal message you send is actually going to whom you intend. Many an email has been sent to the wrong party, to the detriment of the sender.
  • If you are looking for a job, do not, DO NOT use your current employer’s email to conduct this type of business. Your future employer will only assume you will do this again – but to them.
  • Because email is not secure, assume that your employer is monitoring all incoming and outgoing messages.

Email Etiquette Rule #6: Respond To Incoming Messages Promptly

  • You will preserve your image of professionalism if you respond to messages quickly.
  • Do answer questions that someone has asked of you in an email. Sometimes people send back information that is irrelevant, forgetting to answer the original question.
  • A good way to annoy your reader is if you use the “request delivery/read” receipts. Sometimes your recipient won’t read such messages and/or won’t be able to read because of email filtering programs. Avoid this function.

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.

© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun


Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 02, 2012:

Thanks, Alex. I hope your email goes well. :)

Alex Longsword from Nicaragua on September 01, 2012:

Good Hub. I was about to send an e-mail but read this first. thanks.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 06, 2012:

selink - thank you so much for your feedback. I definitely hope these tips help keep to many faux pas incidents from occurring. Thank you again. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 12, 2012:

Brett - great to see you! Yeah, the nefarious "send" button...once it's pressed, it's pressed. No taking it back. If only you could, haha. Thanks so much for stopping by and for SHARING.

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Brett C from Asia on March 11, 2012:

Great tips! You have covered some very important aspects. Particularly that emails are not private!! It is worth considering who could read what you write, before you press the 'send' button.

Thanks for SHARING.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 10, 2012:

Vinaya - yes, gender-neutral language is best to avoid offending anyone. You're also right about choosing the correct words to use in an email. To make matters more difficult, English is a language that has (or is about to have) more non-native speakers than native speakers. But since so much of language is also culture, I'm thinking that email you received from your Indonesian acquaintance didn't know the cultural "rules" and expressed something she had not meant to. Technology is making us all adapt to different conditions and situations for sure.

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on March 10, 2012:

I agree with your points. Regarding using neutral gender I have this experience. Once my sister received an email from a British man who addressed her esquire. Well it was quite impossible for the European to determine gender from Asian name, but he could have used neutral gender. My sister is kind of feminist so she was angered very much.

language usage is also very important. I received an email that read: You think my articles are craps, don't you? I was quite furious because I had never said such things to the sender who was Indonesian. When I asked her why is she so mean, she explained she did not want to say that but was trying to tell me what do you think about my article.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 08, 2012:

Oh man, tammy - I hope that employee didn't get fired over that...but yikes, that could certainly be the result of an email like that - even if it was an accident. Yowza! Thank you so much for coming by - it's always great to see you, friend! :)

Tammy from North Carolina on March 08, 2012:

Great tips! I tend to overuse puncutation in emails. This reminds me of a funny story. Years ago I had a coworker trying to learn a new email system at the University I worked at. He was a cynical person and decided to type out "Christmas is cancelled this year and Santa says go )&^%%$ yourself." He messed around a bit trying to send it to a few people as a test. Sadly, he emailed it to all 500+ employees at the college including the President. It doesn't pay to write such things because accidents happen. Well done and useful.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 06, 2012:

savanahl - thank you so much for your feedback. :) I wanted to write this so that more people could be aware that email is not private. Other eyes can see and if you're not putting your best foot forward, why send the email?

savanahl on March 06, 2012:

What a very informative article. There are so many people out there that do not understand the importance of email etiquette. They should definitely read this. Voted up and useful.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 06, 2012:

Vellur - hehe, if not my hub, I think email programs should incorporate some mandatory reading before a person ever sends an email. :) You're absolutely right.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on March 06, 2012:

With email becoming the most popular way of communication I think your hub should be included with the syllabus of all schools and colleges. Great hub. Voted up.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 05, 2012:

alocsin - oh yes, I *hate* being ignored. I don't like being snubbed. lol. In any case, thanks for commenting. :)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 05, 2012:

#6 is the one that annoys me most of all -- when people don't respond to your email at all, as if it never existed. Voting this Up and Useful.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 05, 2012:

Stephanie - thank you so much for your valuable insights. Yes, you never know where an email is going. Thank you so much for your extra tips - that's a great idea. I appreciate the votes - cheers!

Stephanie Henkel from USA on March 05, 2012:

As more and more business is conducted electronically, it is especially important for email to reflect your professionalism. Spell checking, grammar checking and composition are even more important when it's so easy for email to be forwarded to numerous people who were not on your original list! Great tips on email etiquette! I would add one thing for business email: format it like a formal memo with date, name of recipient, subject and your name and title at the top. Even though this information is available in the email header, it can be hard to find if the email is printed out or forwarded a couple of times.

Voted up, useful and interesting!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 05, 2012:

randomcreative - Hear, hear! I completely agree. I go slightly insane when I get a poorly composed message. I always have to wonder what the credentials of the individual really are. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 05, 2012:

I second the thoughts that this information should be taught to all professionals. There is nothing like getting a poorly written message from someone really important. Great advice!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 05, 2012:

Movie Master - hello! Great to see you! Thank you so much for your great comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the video. :) Thanks for the votes, too. ((HUGS))

Movie Master from United Kingdom on March 05, 2012:

A well written hub with good advice and tips, the video is so funny!

Thank you for sharing and voted up.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 05, 2012:

Millionaire - you're right. I try to pretend that anything I write in an email is like sending a postcard - you know that all sorts of people could be reading it. Not only that, you automatically leave a trail back to you on anything you write. That can be scary. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 05, 2012:

hoteltravel - I agree - when lots of people can see lots of email addresses, it gets easy for possible spammers to see your email address. Yes, the CC and BCC functions are headaches when people use them incorrectly for sure. thank you for the votes and for SHARING - I really appreciate your feedback. :)

Shasta Matova from USA on March 05, 2012:

Very useful tips on sending email messages, especially for work. I've received some emails from bosses that shocked me, with spelling errors and/or forwards with racially charged messages. I try to remember that anything I send I may have to wind up being forwarded or I might have to explain to a larger audience.

hoteltravel from Thailand on March 04, 2012:

You hit the nail right on the head. Even email veterans don't understand the difference between CC and BCC. I don't mind 'forwards' if they are funny and/or interesting, but scrolling down to the actual content past tons of email IDs gets my goat. This is not only irritating, it has dangerous ramifications as well. Voted up, useful and interesting. Shared with followers.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 04, 2012:

Alecia, you are such a gem!! I value your feedback and your awesome comments. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. You have made my day and thank you for sharing. :D

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on March 04, 2012:

E-mail has been around for a while now but I know some people struggle. I try to sound as if I'm talking to someone in an interview, that way I can gauge how appropriate I sound but this hub is nonetheless very useful for good communication. Great information!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 04, 2012:

Mama Kim - I'm so glad you review your emails. Now, if everyone could follow your example, I could just "delete" this hub. :D

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 04, 2012:

Oh yes, the infamous "send" button. Yikes. You can't take it back once it's pressed. I think if people thought "you can only 'send' once," they might actually think twice before hitting that button. :D Thanks for stopping by Victoria.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 04, 2012:

I hate it when people don't put anything in the subject heading. Chances are I'll still read, but I might not respond. Haha. Great insights, Dan. Thanks for the compliments.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on March 04, 2012:

teaches - I'm with you there! I once had an acquaintance frantically running from room to room deleting an email about her husband's affair that she accidentally "replied to all" with. Oops. I saw the email before she deleted it. Oops.

Aloe Kim on March 04, 2012:

I take time to review my emails and I wish everyone else would do the same. Great hub, thank you! ^_^

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on March 04, 2012:

I agree with teaches. This should be taught to employees! Great hub. I agree so much. Email can be scary. Once we hit send, it's gone. All these tips are great for professionals. Well-written hub! Voted up, useful, interesting, and awesome!

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on March 04, 2012:

Very cool useful hub. With my stints working for corporations, I've been surprised by the lack of email etiquette. My pet peeve is people that don't use subjects or have any content to the message, just an attachment. Generally it is "the boss" that does this, so you have to open every single attachment up. I would spend at least an hour a day opening up a myriad of emails from various bosses. Well done!

Dianna Mendez on March 04, 2012:

Thanks for sharing this information. This should be used in all Human Resource manuals/Employee training to avoid improper use of email. The video is funny and points out something that we have all done to some extent. Great hub and voted up!

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