6 Important Tips For Good Email Etiquette

by Yvette McKenzie
Posted: February 09, 2015

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Good email etiquette is super important in today's society with email being the preferred method of communication for most people today. It's easy, convenient and can be done fairly quickly. Compose your message, choose your recipient and hit send – it's as simple as that. Or, is it?

Not quite. Most people aren’t doing it correctly. They are making it really difficult for the person at the other end to process and respond to their emails. They make all sorts of costly mistakes, leading to decreased productivity, social embarrassment, and sometimes even losing their job.

You can easily increase the effectiveness of your email messages tenfold by paying attention to the little things. Let me walk you through the most important ones and tell you what not to do.

Email etiquette - angry businesswoman
 

#1. Not starting off with a clear purpose

Before you even start typing, think about why you want to write the email (its purpose) and what you want the recipient to do (action). Gather all the information you need to provide.

Here are some examples of why you might want to compose an email.

  • To get in touch with your team to organise a meeting.
  • To share an important document that needs action urgently.
  • To distribute information among staff.
  • To reschedule a meeting.
  • To ask for clarification.
  • To seek a referral from someone.
  • Because you want to interview somebody important.

By being clear in your head, you can start off on the right foot. You can create highly effective emails. If you are not sure about what you need, pick up the phone and make a call. Don’t make unambiguous requests.
 

#2. Choosing a vague or spammy subject line

Remember the person receiving your email is also receiving hundreds of other emails that need to be dealt with. Yours is not the only one. Make it easy for them.

Include a subject line that summarises the main idea of your email. Give them a reason to open your email quickly. Say what you need to say immediately.

Here are some examples of subject lines that don’t work. Don’t do this in your communication.

  • Blank or no subject line (Shows laziness and lack of respect for the recipient).
  • Please read this (Don’t beg for attention).
  • Super urgent (Unless it is, and it will still to your benefit to add more information).
  • Hi (Refrain from one word subject lines that say nothing about the message inside).
  • Would you like to mentor me? (Making a big request is a huge no-no!)
  • Complimentary gift for you inside (Spammy – avoid at all costs even if you are sending a token of appreciation).

Writing subject lines becomes a breeze when you are clear on the purpose of your communication. Simply summarise your purpose and use that as your subject line. 
 

#3. Not paying attention to formatting

Sometimes you click open an email and let out a groan. There is something about it that makes you not want to read it. You know it’s going to give you a headache. Sometimes it is too long and sometimes it just looks like the author didn’t pay any attention to the formatting.

Don’t make your email cluttered and hard to read. Remember, people are checking their emails on their work computers, personal laptops, tablets and smart phones. It is an electronic medium of communication. They are not going to print them out so stick to the rules for web formatting.

  • Use small blocks of text.
  • Use headings, bulleted lists and images when appropriate.
  • Use white space to make it easy on the eyes.
  • Don’t include too much information.
  • Don’t make your email too long.
  • Attach documents and tell the receiver what to expect
     

#4. Making it too complicated, wordy or incomplete

Some people like writing really long emails, taking forever to get to the point. Some are lazy with their language and word choices, forgetting to give you the most important information.

Here are some tips to make sure you don’t do any of that. That your emails are always clear, complete and concise.

  • Start with a friendly salutation and address the person you are writing to.
  • Stop using long and drawn out introductions – you are not writing a small novel. Get to the point quickly. 
  • Keep it conversational. This is not an academic essay.
  • Replace longer words with shorter ones. They are often easier to understand.
  • Keep your sentences short and use fewer and shorter paragraphs.
  • Pay attention to your spelling (especially the recipient’s name) and grammar, and don’t forget to proofread. Failing to do so will only make you appear unprofessional.
  • Edit for jargon and avoid using too many abbreviations. If not, you convey a lack of attention to detail.
  • Keep it brief. Don’t ramble.
  • Give complete information; the recipient should not have to get back to you for more information. Avoid the possibility of confusion and delays.
  • Do not provide lengthy background information. Attach a file if extra information is required.

When writing in response to somebody’s email, mirror their approach. How do they usually communicate with you? Do they write two sentences to your four paragraphs? Match their style to achieve a result for your writing effort. Remember, email is meant for simple, quick communication. Say what you want to say, say it quickly, and say it just once.
 

#5. Writing an email when you are overly emotional

Having a bad day? Feeling particularly sad or guilty about something? Feeling like you need to let some steam off? Step away from your screen – now!

Writing when you have no control over your feelings is not a good idea. Here’s why.

  • Never say anything you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face. When writing an email, in the heat of the moment you might forget that there is a human at the other end. You might end up saying something you’ll regret later on.
  • Emails are terrible for saying anything that is tongue-in-cheek. The recipient can’t see your body language or hear your tone of your voice to gauge whether you are kidding or being sarcastic. There is a greater possibility of your emails being misread. Jokes usually do not transfer well, especially when writing to somebody for the first time.
  • Always think of email as something that may become public. Presume any email you write can be read by anybody else — and write accordingly.
  • Email also creates a permanent record. Once you hit the send button, you can’t undo it or take your words back.
  • Some things are better said face-to-face. Never apologise or address mistakes by email. Show respect and talk to them.

Write your email and save it as a draft. Go over it when you are feeling calmer and then revise accordingly. Send when your head is clear and you are “yourself” again.
 

#6. Not including a clear call to action

When you write an email, don’t expect the recipient to read your mind. What exactly do you want them to do? Say it clearly.

Here are some examples of calls to action.

  • Perform a specific action - ask them to give you more details on a project.
  • Respond with information - ask them to confirm if they are available for a conference call the next day.
  • Read only - they need to read your message to clearly understand something. 
  • No response is necessary - always write a business email with this point in mind: everyone is busy and gets a lot of emails. Don’t expect instant responses.

End with a short thank you. And don’t forget to add an email signature that includes your contact details, website, etc.

Follow these guidelines and watch the effectiveness of your emails soar.

 

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Yvette McKenzie

Yvette

Is the content strategist at Open Colleges. She has over a decade of professional experience at some of Australia’s largest media corporations, including Southern Cross Austereo and the Macquarie Media Network. With a degree in Communications (majoring in Journalism), she covers stories on education, new knowledge technologies and independent learning.

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