Why is email etiquette important? Let’s imagine you’re hiring for a new role, and you’ve just received the email below.
Body: Hey, why haven’t i gotten an offer yet?? I interviewed 24 hours ago. You said you were moving quickly. How long will it take???”
If you were an interviewer, would you be more inclined to respond to this candidate and schedule an interview, or to remove them from consideration altogether?
Even if the candidate is well-liked, many professionals would select the latter – purely based on that short message. The wrong email can call into judgment your professionalism, credibility, and understanding of workplace norms. That’s why it’s critical to consider good email etiquette.
What is Email Etiquette?
Email etiquette is the professionalism and politeness you display in an email. It’s a way to effectively communicate with people digitally – which is especially important when you don’t know the person you’re emailing. Similar to other forms of communication, like face-to-face or telephone conversations, good email etiquette can demonstrate respect, manners, and an understanding of communicating in a digital world.
For example, instead of the above email, a more professional follow-up email is:
Subject: Follow-Up, RE: Timeline
Thank you so much for your time on [day]. It was great to meet with you and learn more about the role! I’m writing to check-in regarding the timeline. Do you have an estimate of when applicants will be updated on the status of their candidacy? I appreciate your time.
Importance of Email Etiquette
As you might have noticed, although the information requested in both emails is essentially the same (i.e., When will you get back to me?), the tone and approach are completely different. The average hiring manager will be more likely to respond to the second email than the first. Even if they don’t respond, the second email is unlikely to get a candidate disqualified from consideration because it’s clear, concise, and polite.
That is the importance of email etiquette. When done well, it can provide clarity and key information for the sender and the recipient. It is also more efficient than long, rambling emails or emails so short that you don’t understand what’s being asked. And clearly, it can be used to make a positive impression of the sender. But the advantages don’t stop there.
Advantages of Email Etiquette in Business
We’ve already begun to discuss the importance and advantages of email etiquette but let’s dive deeper. Proper email etiquette is a display of:
Efficiency and Clarity: Poor email etiquette leads to misunderstandings. When critical information is left out, the receiver will spend time trying to make sense of it rather than responding. Or they’ll have to make their own assumptions about the intention and meaning of the message, leading to the possibility of misinterpretation. Good email etiquette creates both clarity and efficiency by making the message clear and understandable.
Accountability: Emails are a documentable form of communication. Unlike face-to-face or telephone conversations, they can be pulled up and referenced to determine ownership, commitments, and responsibilities. This can be a massive advantage when there’s a disagreement between people about how obligations were divvied up.
Professionalism: Whether emailing someone you’re meeting for the first time or someone you work with regularly, email etiquette demonstrates professionalism. If you’re a candidate, it is reassurance for the interviewers that you will represent the organization well, which can tip the scales in your favor for a hiring decision.
Action Checklist of Email Etiquette Before Sending
Using a checklist is one way to ensure email etiquette is in place. Consider reviewing your key emails with the checklist below.
- Clear subject line: The subject line should let the sender know the general topic or reason for the email. This will drive them to open it and makes it easier to find later.
- Appropriate greeting: Use phrases like “Dear,” “Greetings,” and “Good morning/afternoon” for openings. Then use the recipient’s name and/or title.
- Introduction, if needed: If you’re writing to someone for the first time, take 1-2 brief sentences to introduce yourself and your reason for writing.
- Structure: Strong emails follow a general structure of a greeting, a short introduction, the body of the email where you clearly state your request / call-to-action, and a sign-off.
- Signature: End your email properly with “Sincerely” or “Kind Regards.” Then include a signature, which typically contains your full name, title, company, and contact information. This is especially helpful for first-contact emails.
- Proofread: Use a spell-checker and grammar-checker to ensure your email is clear and without error.
- Add recipient email last: This will help ensure you don’t accidentally send the email before it’s completed. It also allows you to double-check any attachments and the recipient’s address.
Lastly, remember that replying in a timely manner is a vital part of professional communication and email etiquette. In the corporate world, a 24-48 hour response time is the norm during the standard business week. Don’t forget to respond, even if it only acknowledges what the sender said.
Most Common Email Etiquette Mistakes
Professionalism is not always a one size fits all, but some things should never be done in a professional email – no matter who you are writing to.
Emojis and abbreviations: While some workplaces have occasional smiling emoji and business-specific abbreviations (e.g., ETA), it’s best to get acquainted with the environment before using them. Abbreviations that are commonly used in text messages (e.g., lol, omg, brb) should ALWAYS be avoided.
Sentence fragments: Follow standard grammar conventions. Email is a professional medium distinct from text messaging, instant messaging, or other casual applications. Additionally, emails can be used for legal reasons or record-keeping — making them more formal. So it is best to ensure you use complete sentences and grammar, so your intentions and messages are clear.
All-caps: If you’ve ever had someone send you all-caps, then you know what it’s like to be yelled at over digital messages. Shouting or yelling at someone through email is incredibly unprofessional. So, don’t use all-caps unless it’s for an abbreviation or acronym.
Reply-all: If an email is sent to a group of people, but the response only needs to go to the original sender, don’t use “reply all.” For example, an email that asks for RSVPs can simply be a “reply” to the person that asked instead of a “reply all” to everyone.
Missing context: Don’t assume that the receiver has all of the background information and context you do when making a request. Provide them with a brief summary or refresher.
Email Etiquette for Responsible Managers: What Not to Do
Managers set the example. If they send emails in the middle of the night or vague and unstructured emails, the people they manage might follow suit. Below are three key things managers should avoid.
Angry emails: Emails shouldn’t be used to convey strong negative emotions. If a manager finds themselves frustrated, angry, or otherwise more tense than usual, they should step away and return to the email later. Emails are permanent, recoverable records of documentation. Managers should remember this during periods of high emotion or agitation.
Expecting immediate replies: Good email etiquette typically allows for 24-hour response windows. Yes, managers generally expect faster replies from people who report directly to them. However, they should consider the negative impact that can have on productivity. The pressure to immediately reply to emails could send employees into a response loop, making it impossible to complete deep, focused work. Additionally, employees shouldn’t feel pressured to answer emails off-hours.
Using email to discuss personnel and performance issues: This should be reserved for face-to-face conversations, no matter if the feedback is positive or negative. Emails leave room for misinterpretations, especially regarding tone – a message that can be delivered more gently in person can come across too harshly in an email.
Best Practices Email Etiquette Examples
Example 1: Introducing Yourself
Of course, this will vary depending on why you’re introducing yourself – for example, introducing yourself to a new team that you joined vs. to someone at an organization you’re interested in. Below are some broad outlines that you can use to give the email a form.
- Introduction from [name] at [organization]
- Request to chat briefly
- Interested in opportunities at [organization]
My name is [name], and I would like to introduce myself. I’m writing because [reason]. [Additional information that might be relevant and shows you’ve done your research]. [Any information that might form a connection]. [Request, if applicable].
There are many ways to close an email – but the formality is typically highest in an introduction. Read our article on the do’s and don’ts of ending emails for examples.
Example 2: Requesting Assistance
Similar to an introduction, this will depend on your request, but below is a general outline.
My name is [name], and I’m writing on behalf of [organization or department].
I would like to request your assistance with [request including what, why, and when]. Please let me know if you can assist – I appreciate your time!
Example 3: Acknowledgement
Similar to the above, there are many different reasons why you could be responding to an email, but for this example, let’s pretend you’re simply acknowledging an email that was sent.
Thank you for [an action they completed in the previous email]. [Any action occurring as a response to their previous action].
Ultimately, good email etiquette is a powerful way to shape people’s perceptions and control the message. When done well, it can allow you to present yourself as a cool, calm, and collected professional, but when good email etiquette is ignored… it can have the opposite effect. The choice is yours.