E-mail Etiquette: The Finer Points Part 1

The following is reprinted courtesy of Robert Half International.

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Although most professionals are well versed in using e-mail, many still struggle with the finer points. It’s commonly known that typing in all CAPS is equivalent to “cybershouting” – but here are some other protocol points to consider:

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• Be kind. Don’t use e-mail to say no, argue, criticize or deliver bad news. Pick up the phone or deliver the information face to face.

• Make every e-mail fight for its right to be sent. The less you send, the more likely your messages will be read. Don’t copy others unless they really need to read it.

• Be considerate, not cryptic. Don’t expect others to decipher what you mean by reviewing an entire e-mail thread. Just because you are on the go doesn’t mean you should expect others to piece together what’s being requested.

• Use only one account for work. Keep work-related e-mails coming and going from your work account only. Having a single address makes it easy for people to find your messages. And it will prevent business messages from getting tangled with your personal e-mail – and perhaps neglected as a result.

• Consider your e-mail account when job hunting. It may go without saying, but don’t use your current work e-mail to send resumes to prospective employers. Also, avoid using overly personal e-mail handles when job hunting, such as “partyanimal@ .com.” Not everyone will appreciate your sense of humor and “too much information” can be a turn-off.

• Respond in a timely manner. Try to respond to all messages within 24 hours, but don’t say you’ll reply with a more detailed response at a later date unless you really intend to follow through. If you’re in consecutive meetings or away from the office, put an out-of-office message on so people aren’t left wondering when you’ll get back to them.

• Be crystal clear. In your subject line (and you should always have one!), explain what you want: Do you need someone to review or approve something, or is the message simply an FYI? In the message itself, get to the point and use bullets, which are easier to scan than large blocks of text.


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5 thoughts on “E-mail Etiquette: The Finer Points Part 1

  1. Heather

    Great tips. Our department uses the subject line to communicate directly when we are all on the go. For example: Please review draft brochure attached eom (end of message) This way the email doesn’t even need to opened and gets the message across.

  2. Alina Wheeler

    This is a great list. The clear/ action-oriented subject line is the most underutilized tool in business that I know. A good subject line saves everyone’s time and helps others focus to make timely decisions. Brevity is another critical tool: very few people read beyond the first paragraph.

  3. Bill Lake

    Nice list. I have two additional suggestions for improving the effectiveness of your emails – especially with people you might be trying to impress, such as customers or senior management:
    1) State what you want or recommend in the first sentence of your email and provide the reasons and supporting information afterwards. Busy people value those who value their time and know how to get to the point.
    2) If you are asking to schedule a meeting, suggest a specific date and time along with an alternate so that the other person can accept one, and be done with the task. When you contribute to the ping-ponging email chain, you discredit your self.

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