Email has become inseparable from modern working life and yet, email etiquette can be deceptively tricky to navigate. That’s because, unlike face-to-face interactions in which facial expression plays an important role in conveying feeling and emotion, written communication is more open to misunderstanding.
There’s a fine line – or misplaced joke – between an email that comes off as friendly and professional and one that could elicit confusion or insult. Saying that, it’s very easy to minimise potential disaster and use email as the workplace communication supertool it was intended to be.
So, if you’re suffering email anxiety, follow these few simple rules:
Clear subject line
A clear subject line should let the recipient know the nature of the email before they open it. It also ensures your carefully crafted words don’t end up in the spam folder or deleted without even being opened. Think of a short and snappy subject line that summarises what you’re saying. Use actionable words if you need to such as “For review”, “A question about…” or even “Urgent” if your email is actually urgent.
If you’re reaching out to someone for the first time, it’s best practice to let them know who you are and where you work within the opening line or two. A simple introduction shows the recipient that you’re courteous and professional. For example: “My name is Sarah Smith, I work for Blue Fund company. Mark Robson gave me your details and suggested I get in contact with you regarding the digitilisation project.”
How to greet
How you address someone depends on the nature of your relationship to them. For someone you have never met or a professional contact you don’t know very well, use “Dear [name]”. For a colleague that you know well you can use “Hi” or “Hello”, or “Hi All” when addressing a group of colleagues you know well. Don’t use overly casual greetings such as “Hey” or “Yo” in professional correspondence.
To emoji or not
Emojis might seem cute but they can come off as unprofessional, especially to a manager or supervisor who may then question your suitability for a role. This is even more applicable if your email is to a perspective employer. In general, resist using emojis unless your correspondence is with someone you know well and who has used them in emails with you in the past.
Read the room
Don’t assume the recipients will automatically understand that the joke you slipped in was indeed a joke – sarcasm and humour are hard to gauge through text. Also, the person you’re communicating with might not know you that well so chances are they don’t know your sense of humour. Not to mention certain sayings and idioms might not translate all that well across cultures. Steer clear of potential disaster by keeping email correspondence professional, clear and friendly when communicating with anyone other than your best friends or closest colleagues.
Respond within 24 hours
It’s common courtesy to respond to an email within 24 hours. Any longer than that and you should express your apologies and offer a brief explanation of the delay. If you have received an email that you know you won’t be able to respond to within 24 hours let the sender know with a simple, courteous “Thanks for the email, I’m very busy today but will get back to you on this on Wednesday!”.
Don’t reply all
There’s no need to inundate people’s inboxes with unimportant emails so hold off using ‘reply all’ unless you’re responding to something that everyone has already responded to or is awaiting your response on.
Sending an email riddled with spelling mistakes is one of the easiest ways to come off as careless and unprofessional. Make sure to turn on spell check and double check emails for grammar and spelling mistakes before you hit send. Reading text out loud is an effective way to catch mistakes your eyes may have glossed over.
For more tips on keeping it professional, head to Email Etiquette on UniHub.