Email Etiquette

By Ali Hale

If you work in an office, you probably write emails every day – to colleagues, to your boss, to clients. Even if you’re still at college, you’ll need to email your lecturers once in a while (maybe to plead for an essay extension, or to ask for help) – and many employers now expect resumes and cover letters to be sent by email.

So, being able to write a professional, business-like email is a crucial skill. Daily Writing Tips has already covered the email subject line, but the body of your message also matters.

1. Start with a salutation

Your email should open by addressing the person you’re writing to. Sure, you can get away with leaving out the salutation when you’re dashing off an email to your friend, but business-like messages should begin with:

  • Dear Mr Jones, or Dear Professor Smith, (for someone you don’t know well, especially if they’re a superior)
  • Dear Joe, or Dear Mandy, (if you have a working relationship with the person)

It’s fine to use “Hi Joe”, “Hello Joe” or just the name followed by a comma (“Joe,”) if you know the person well – writing “Dear Joe” to one of your team-mates will look odd!

2. Write in short paragraphs

Get straight to the point – don’t waste time waffling. Split your email into two to four short paragraphs, each one dealing with a single idea. Consider using bullet-points for extra clarity, perhaps if you are:

  • Listing several questions for the recipient to answer
  • Suggesting a number of alternative options
  • Explaining the steps that you’ll be carrying out

Put a double line break, rather than an indent (tab), between paragraphs.

3. Stick to one topic

If you need to write to someone about several different issues (for example, if you’re giving your boss an update on Project X, asking him for a review meeting to discuss a payrise, and telling him that you’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Friday), then don’t put them all in the same email. It’s hard for people to keep track of different email threads and conversations if topics are jumbled up.

4. Use capitals appropriately

Emails should follow the same rules of punctuation as other writing. Capitals are often misused. In particular, you should:

  • Never write a whole sentence (or worse, a whole email) in capitals
  • Always capitalise “I” and the first letter of proper nouns (names)
  • Capitalise acronymns (USA, BBC, RSPCA)
  • Always start sentences with a capital letter.

This makes your email easier to read: try retyping one of the emails you’ve received in ALL CAPS or all lower case, and see how much harder it is to follow!

5. Sign off the email

For short internal company emails, you can get away with just putting a double space after your last paragraph then typing your name. If you’re writing a more formal email, though, it’s essential to close it appropriately.

  • Use Yours sincerely, (when you know the name of your addressee) and Yours faithfully, (when you’ve addressed it to “Dear Sir/Madam”) for very formal emails such as job applications.
  • Use Best regards, or Kind regards, in most other situations.
  • Even when writing to people you know well, it’s polite to sign off with something such as “All the best,” “Take care,” or “Have a nice day,” before typing your name.

6. Use a sensible email signature

Hopefully this is common sense – but don’t cram your email signature with quotes from your favourite TV show, motivational speaker or witty friend. Do include your name, email address, telephone number and postal address (where appropriate) – obviously, your company may have some guidelines on these.

It makes it easy for your correspondents to find your contact details: they don’t need to root through for the first message you sent them, but can just look in the footer of any of your emails.

Putting it all together

Compare the following two job applications. The content of the emails are identical – but who would you give the job to?

i’ve attached my resume i would be grateful if you could read it and get back to me at your earliest convenience. i have all the experience you are looking for – i’ve worked in a customer-facing environment for three years, i am competent with ms office and i enjoy working as part of a team. thanks for your time

Or

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’ve attached my resume. I would be grateful if you could read it and get back to me at your earliest convenience. I have all the experience you are looking for:

  • I’ve worked in a customer-facing environment for three years
  • I am competent with MS office
  • I enjoy working as part of a team

Thanks for your time.

Yours faithfully,

Joe Bloggs

Have you ever received a really badly written email? Or have you ever been told you need to brush up your own email writing? Share your email etiquette horror stories – and any of your tips – in the comments!

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70 Responses to “Email Etiquette”

  • Joann

    I find it annoying when people in business use their email signature for closure. For example they put “Thanks” right above their name in the signature line.

    Is this correct email etiquette rather than rewriting your first name?

  • Al Campbell

    Is it just me?

    Concluding with ‘Best regards’ seems more appropriate when compared with ‘Kind regards’

    My thoughts are that ‘best’ is your interpretation of how you rate your regards, whereas, ‘kind’ is more about how others perceive and value your intentions. To use ‘kind’ seems presumptions and a little arrogant, perhaps.

    I’m interested to hear other views on this issue of mine (or perhaps it really is just me!).

  • Gia

    (Response to Sophia) I am right along with you, but I did do my keyboardingand my grade went up. You should relly re-read the tips at the top, and then you should know how to write one. Hope you learn some new things.

  • Sophia

    I am in 8th grade and I a business keyboarding class and I recently had to write a formal email about a game that I liked. I got deducted down because I did not use the correct formatting but then I looked back and realized that I had no clue what the correct formating was. Could you help me please?

  • Rabia

    Its a very best side and helped me alot for writing emails.

  • Rabia

    Its really a very good and useful side for me i learned lots of things when i read such kind of comments.

    Thanks,
    Rabia

  • Varoona

    Greetings, *!

    I love to compose nice and good mails. Sometimes I even get crazy and spend an our finding the best way to express my self.
    I came here to see salutations, get new ideas, and to learn.

    I am working at a high level, enterprise company and send / receive tens of mails every day. Usually I see the “Dear John,” salutation, and a mail that has nothing with ethics, friendship or kindness. Let me demonstrate my views:
    In our precious time, we just like to get the best solution, and use the same salutation all over again even if it’s boring like hell, and far from any kindness, or personality.
    Let me ask you all a question: If your were a lady and colleague not well known would address his mail to you and five other female colleagues starting with “Greetings, Ladies!”, would you consider it inappropriate, rude, or wrong in any way? Also, what about “Gentleman,” in the opposite way, or simply “Hi Colleagues!” in case you have mixed sex recipients? I also like to use “Greetings, Colleagues!” and would like to use some other ideas as well, because I am really bored of the super-standard “Dear John” (not to talk about “Dear Mister” I see sometimes) salutations.

    I wouldn’t even write “Dear Denis” for my boss, it seems far too overreacted to me, I am not an ass licker, and I won’t like to be addressed like that either.

    Summarizing, the “Dear” I read everywhere might be right for a totally unknown person for the first shot, but I completely disagree with that in a professional, friendly and objective work environment.

    Please share your ideas, and views!

    Regards,
    Varoona

  • BJ

    Thank you for your help! All I noticed is that favorite had a “U” in it. Again, thank you for your help though.

  • MANJU

    Sir/ Madam

    Please help me too write an e-mail to sir asking them too help too solve the problem which I have asked them . and also regarding write an email to hubby

    please , help me
    thank you
    regards
    manju

  • BreAnna Davis R.

    Dear Mrs.Gilbert ,

    thank you for being the nicest teacher ever. you help me and you gave me another chance of being in your class and letting me check up on things. your the nicest teacher on the planet .

    sincerely ,
    BreAnna Davis

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