Email etiquette: Do you mind your manners?

Somehow the manners we show our colleagues and contacts in face-to-face communication often seem to fall by the wayside when it comes to email communication.  We dash off constant emails without much thought to our email etiquette - how our message comes across or what impact it might have on our readers.

Follow these eight golden rules of email etiquette to show consideration to your reader and ensure your emails are read and generate the response you intend.

1. Subject line – use a clear subject line that signposts the reader to your message.  They are more likely to open and read your email if they know what it’s about.  And a relevant subject line will make your email more searchable later.

2. Salutation – you may be in a hurry but it only takes a few seconds to address your reader by name.  When replying to a previous email you can mirror the salutation used by the sender but otherwise ‘Dear’ or ‘Hi’ for a more informal email are your safest neutral options. It’s best to avoid anything too casual.

3. Length – a very long email is less likely to read or to get left until later.  Keep it short and to the point but if you do need write a detailed email help your reader by breaking it down into separate paragraphs with clear headings.

4. Clear actions – there is nothing worse than reading and then re-reading an email several times and still having no idea what, if anything, you are supposed to do in response.  State any required actions clearly with time frames or otherwise make it clear if your email is for information only.

5. Avoid shouting – this may seem like tired advice but it needs repeating.  Using all capitals, bolding, underlining and multiple colours, particularly in combination, can be painful on your readers’ eyes and can seem like you are yelling at them.  Use bold in moderation, for example, for headings, dates or actions or use just one additional colour to make key points stand out.

6. Email protocols – when email writing we have access to features that are not available in face-to-face communication like the urgent exclamation mark or the CC function.  Use these very sparingly if you must as not many people like to be told how to prioritise their inbox or be involved in conversations that aren’t relevant to them.

7. Proof read – however short your email is, always check for typos and grammar errors.  If your reader spots mistakes in your written communication they may think that you haven’t taken in any care with your message or even that you don't value your relationship.  Make extra sure that you have included any attachments, spelt your reader's name accurately and given any dates and locations correctly.

8. Cross-cultural considerations – when writing emails across borders remember that good manners are not always the same across cultures.  In relationship focused cultures opening pleasantries are more important than in more task-focused cultures where getting to the point is preferred.  Other considerations include how formal you should be or how much detail to provide.

9. Out-of-office – use this to help manage your readers’ expectations and let them know when you will be responding.  Keep your message neutral and professional.

10. When to send – if you are working outside office hours try to refrain from sending emails.  Your contacts won’t necessarily be impressed that you are working into the small hours – quite possibly the opposite – and you risk the email getting missed.

A final word of advice is to make completing the 'to' field the very last thing you do as this will reduce the risk of sending your email without due attention (or the wrong people!).  Take time to think about how you have expressed your message as well as what you have said.  Good email etiquette matters and the bottom line is that emails that are written with care and consideration to the reader are more likely to be read and actioned and less likely to waste time through frustration or ambiguous messages. 

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