Breaking Down Professional Email Etiquette

The average white-collar American worker spends 4.1 hours a work day on their email according to a 2016 Adobe study. That translates to more than 1,000 hours each year, or more than 41 days a year crafting and reading emails. If you’re spending more than one month of your year emailing, hopefully you’re making the most of it! However, despite the increasing frequency and importance of emailing, many people still don’t quite know the ins and outs of professional email etiquette. Lack of professional emailing etiquette can cost you a potential sale, client- or job, so understanding what is appropriate is essential. To maximize your business success, let’s break down what’s expected when it comes to professional emailing.

Starting from the top: The subject line.

While it may only be one or two words, you can’t underestimate the importance of an email’s subject line. As the first thing your reader sees, a bad or blank subject line can move your email from the inbox to the trash without even being opened. Subject lines should be short and concise, describing the exact purpose of the email. General subject lines such as “Info,” “Question,” “Follow Up” or even “Hello,” don’t usually incite readers to open these emails promptly or possibly at all. While you want to be concise, you also need to avoid verbatim repetition in your subject. If you get your entire point across in a long subject line, such as “meeting on 5/5 canceled and rescheduled for 5/15,” then reading the actual email can feel redundant. Finding a sweet spot of a short, to the point subject line is the way to ensure your email is opened promptly and reacted to properly.

Using the right greeting to begin your email is crucial.

No one likes having to correct someone calling them by the wrong name, a nickname they don’t go by, or the wrong prefix. It’s even worse having to correct someone via email. An email’s greeting establishes the tone your reader will take with the email, and starting it off with a mistake can overshadow the entire purpose of the email. Keep these tips in mind when greeting someone professionally:

-Do NOT spell their name wrong. Double and triple check the greeting to ensure you spelled your recipient’s name correctly. An error here could cause you to either look sloppy, unprepared, or simply like you do not care enough to get their name right.

-Always play it safe. If you know William’s father calls him Billy but are unsure if he wants others to call him Billy, address him as William until you’re told otherwise. The same rule applies to not knowing if someone goes by Dr, Miss, or Mrs, it is safe to stick to Mr., and Ms., or first names until you know otherwise.

-Texting lingo doesn’t fly. When crafting your greeting in a professional email, you must avoid any slang or informal greeting until a certain tone is established later on. “Hi” and “Hello” are acceptable, but as you can imagine, “Hey,” “Sup,” “Yo,” or a lack of a greeting are considered informal and unprofessional.

Avoid jokes and sarcasm when emailing someone in your professional network.

While your sense of humor and use of sarcasm might be your biggest charm when you’re face-to-face with friends, it is best to avoid this when writing professional emails unless you have a well-established relationship and know exactly how your recipient will respond. Too often specific tones, jokes, and sarcastic remarks are lost in translation through emails, and can lead to miscommunication. Therefore, when emailing with a new contact, potential employer or employee, it’s best to stick to the point and save the jokes for the office.

Understand the degree of formality in each email conversation.

Just like in-person, the formality of a conversation is dictated by the relationship and changes with each person you talk to. When reaching out to a new contact, you should always start off by speaking formal. This includes proper greetings, correct sentencing and grammar, and a proper sign-off. As the relationship and the email chain continue to grow, you can gage any changes in formality based on the responses you receive. If your boss responds to you with a quick, run-on sentence with no punctuation and a smiley face at the end, you can assume he or she is comfortable with a less-formal email structure. However, if they respond with the same proper etiquette you began the conversation with, it’s best to keep up the formality.

Craft an appropriate signature block.

A signature block can help pull an entire email together making it look clean and professional. However, a visually poor or confusing signature block can end your email in bad taste. Often times a company will have a streamlined signature block used for each employee, but if you’re looking to create your own, check out these tips and examples for guidelines:

-If you are employed, make sure your block includes your full name, current position, company, and contact information (phone number, address if important).

Example:

Madison Matre
Marketing Intern
Medix Staffing Solutions
(630) 921-1234

-If you are not employed, you can include your most recent education and degree, and a position held in a club or organization if it is impressive. (President of a club, treasurer, etc.)

Example:

Madison B. Matre
Clemson University ‘18
Marketing, B.S
President, Alpha Beta Sorority
(630) 921-1234

-Make sure your signature block is consistent. If you have a streamlined signature within your workplace, keep it consistent with the company guidelines. If you created your own, it is best to keep it consistent with the look of the email. Avoid funky colors and an overuse of bold, italics, and underline to create a professional looking signature block.

Proofread, Proofread, And Proofread.

The importance of proofreading your emails can not be emphasized enough! There is no worse feeling than spending hours crafting the perfect email to your dream employer, only to send it and realize after that you made no sense and spelled the company name wrong. Keep these tips in mind when proofreading your emails:

-Even if you are responding to an email, leave the recipient section blank while crafting your email to avoid accidentally sending your email too early or on accident. Doing this ensures you can hit the enter key confidently while typing your email and it won’t send halfway through.

-Don’t rely on spellcheck to catch all your mistakes. Spellcheck isn’t perfect, and it’s best to check your grammar and spelling yourself before sending out your emails.

-Read your email out loud to get a sense of your tone in the email. If you think it sounds too harsh it will read that way to your recipient. Hearing it read out loud is the best way to avoid unintentional tones.

 

Now that we’ve gone through the entire breakdown of an email, here are a few extra tips and tricks to follow to ensure you use proper professional email etiquette:

-Understand how to use BCC and CC. In emailing, CC stands for “carbon copy,” meaning that any address you put here will receive a copy of the email you’re sending, and they are all able to view every email CC’d along with them. Similarly, BCC stands for “blind carbon copy,” which also sends a copy of your email to everyone on the list. However, if you BCC them they will not be able to view anyone else on the BCC list.

-Make sure the email address you use sounds professional. If you have a work or school email, try to send all business emails through that email. If you are using a personal account, keep it basic with your first and last name. Keep any email you have that sounds like “maddiebabe101” or “nysycgurl1” out of your professional inbox.

-Be mindful of when you send your emails. Avoid sending an email with your resume to a potential employer at 3 in the morning on a Saturday, these emails sent at odd times can often be forgotten about or ignored.

-Don’t keep people waiting. Always respond to your emails, and do it as soon as you are able to put in the thought each response requires.

There’s a reason American workers spend an average 41 days a year reading and crafting emails. Emailing is an essential tool in the workplace today and it is just as important to understand the proper professional etiquette in emailing as it is to know professional etiquette when you are in person. Do you have any extra advice on professional email etiquette? Share it with us in the comments!

13 thoughts on “Breaking Down Professional Email Etiquette

  1. This was excellent information that will be beneficial moving forward. I thank all those involved and look forward to more correspondence.

  2. Thank you, I’m always looking for info on how to be more professional. Question, after every sentence is double space still proper or is single ok?

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