Email Etiquette

By Ali Hale - 3 minute read

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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”

  • mazza

    i am part of a group of 80 professional, diverse persons….who mainly use personal, as against company email addresses
    when i send out an email to all the members of that group….. i always send it “””bcc”””because i thought that it was impolite as well as risky to do otherwise……..but; one of the group wants me to send everything””””cc”””; so that they can email direct to another of the group…i believe this is not correct as well as dodgy, as i consider i do not have the right to enclose a persons’ private email address; unless they specifically tell me to….surely this group are not like family members or facebook
    i would appreciate your advice….many thanks

  • John Mactorn

    I feel that you are quite right about your artical. I have a school course and is using this info to complete it.

  • kuku666

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  • kyt

    How do you address your boss in a mail,when you communicate everyday through email.
    Am a female and he is an older man.

  • Aaron Toponce

    Back again. I thought I would share another reason why top-posting email sucks. If you have a mobile device to read your email, such as an iPhone or Android, then top-posting clearly becomes a major issue. The problem is that each previous post is nested, or indented. And because no one trims when they top post, if the thread is long, then the nesting gets intense.

    I only have about 140 characters width when in landscape mode in my email client. If each previous post is nested by 10 characters on each side (which seems to be the case for Outlook mail), then after 7 replies, every email after that only has one character per line. ONE CHARACTER PER LINE.

    Please, tell me that’s readable.

    You don’t have this problem when you trim, and bottom posting encourages proper trimming. Then, you have readable mail on mobile devices.

  • Kev

    Aaron, I find it somewhat ironic that you have a name of Toponce, given your hatred of top posting.
    I for one will ALWAYS top post.

    If I’m replying to the sender, he Knows what he’s written, he doesn’t need to read it again, likewise when he replies to me.

    When you’re having a conversation do you repeat back to the other person what he’s just said to you? Of course not, and email conversations are no different. Yes leave his original comments in, especially if your reply is not immediate, but don’t make him re-read what he’s just written.

    Another issue is when reading emails in web based forums such as google groups. Only the top of the email is shown, the rest is displayed as “hidden text”, you have to open up the entire email before you can see what the person has written.

    Even worse when emails are part of a mailing list, with several people independently replying to the original email. If one bottom posted to each reply, you’d end up with a dozen emails, each of which made you read the original email first.

    Nothing you have written will convince me otherwise, bottom posting is the most annoying, time wasting and inconsiderate way to reply to an email!!

    Oh – and as to your reference to mobile devices, top posting ensures that the original email is NOT indented, thus making it EASIER to read!

  • Aaron Toponce

    I don’t think you understand the definition of irony, but that’s not important here. Consider the following consequences of your actions, because of your top-posting behavior:

    1. Messages double, triple, and quadruple in size for each reply to the thread. As a result, email inboxes grow exponentially. Not only locally, but remotely on the server. Disk space becomes a concern for busy mail servers.
    2. As outlined above, for MUAs that indent previous replies, on mobile clients, or small screen sizes, the character count per lines becomes less and less, until each line is only a single character in width, making it nearly impossible to read the message.
    3. For those on slow internet connections (yes, “broadband” isn’t ubiquitous yet), or with bandwidth caps, downloading the messages can become troublesome.
    4. For those just joining the thread, because someone added them midway through, their reading experience ends up like this:

    A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
    Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
    A: Top-posting.
    Q: What is the most annoying thing in e-mail?

    Have you ever stopped to think about top-posting? Email and usenet are the only places you’ll find it. Replies on blogs, such as this post, are bottom posted. Replies on BBSs and forums are bottom posted. Replies on Twitter, Facebook, IRC, IM, SMS, and every other internet medium are bottom posted. Except for email and usenet. And somehow, that’s become acceptable.

    With regards to Gmail collapsing the bottom replies, that is just the case of a broken MUA. Further, I have bottom posted for years, and for those who read my replies in the Gmail MUA, they have never had a problem reading them. Google doesn’t collapse the reply. You don’t have to open up anything.

    Lastly, I’m not trying to convince anyone. Only show them the error of their ways by top-posting. People will do as they wish. I don’t care. So, keep top-posting.

  • BreAnna Davis R.

    Dear Flvs.net

    i love being your granddaughter ooh by the way this is breanna i did this on a assessment i just want to send it to you i love you grandma and papa

    sincerely ,

    BreAnna Davis R.

  • BreAnna Davis R.

    sorry that was for my grandma

  • BreAnna Davis R.

    Dear grandma and papa

    i love being your granddaughter ooh by the way this is breanna i did this on a assessment i just want to send it to you i love you grandma and papa because you are the greatest grandma and papa i were had love you.

    sincerely ,

    BreAnna Davis R.

  • 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

  • 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

  • BJ

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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Rabia

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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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!).

  • 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?

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