There is quite an ongoing debate on whether you still need to be so formal when communicating via email. Some think it is best to just get straight to the point in our fast-paced world and there is no necessity for courtesies anymore. However, I believe that if we continue to do so, some generations down the line will not know how to write at all anymore. Think of it as if you are going to a party. It is better to be over-dressed – you can always take the pearls off and first impressions do matter!
So, if you still believe in courtesy and do get annoyed when people you have never met before, address you with “Hi Dan”, then keep on reading for some netiquette tips!
1. Using a greeting is not old-fashioned
When sending an email, it is important to use the right greeting to address your recipient – especially if it is the first time or you do not know the person. In etiquette circles, it is still recommended to use “Dear” and “Mr., Ms. and Mrs.” along with their surname. You should then use a colon for American English and a comma in British English. You can be less formal with your greeting after you have received a response from the person. Depending on how the person signs his email (e.g. Sincerely vs. Thanks), you will be able to see if you should keep it formal or take it to a more casual level.
Using “Hello” is both professional and friendly and is considered appropriate addressing someone you know or have been associated with for a while. “Hi” is casual and conversational and more appropriate for people you have regular email communication with. But please do avoid using “Hey”. It is slang and should never be used for any professional setting.
2. Email content, sarcasm, confidential information and slang
Keeping your email content accurate and concise is important in getting your message read and understood. Keep your formatting simple. Always come across as friendly, respectful and approachable. Leave out any sort of sarcasm or exclamation marks to avoid unintended and unnecessary offense. The tone of your email should always be positive.
Remind people of who you are if you only met briefly or if it has been a while and explain to them in the email why you are writing.
If you have several items to discuss, use bullet points or send several emails for different topics. This will make it easier to find emails later in case you need to refer to certain information that was mentioned.
If you are sending an email that does not require a response, it is appropriate to include “No reply necessary” in the subject line or in the content of your email.
Refrain from sending confidential information in emails. If this information gets into the wrong person’s hands you could end up in trouble. Rather schedule a meeting and talk in person about the matter. In the same manner, use your work email address for business only. Do not use it for gossip or for your personal business.
Do not use abbreviations, emoticons or slang. Do not assume that everyone knows what they mean; aside from that, it makes you look very unprofessional.
3. Replying to Questions
When replying to emails, set the appropriate tone. It is a good idea to start by thanking the sender for their message. This shows a sense of courtesy and creates a positive beginning to your message. This is especially helpful if your response may otherwise be perceived negatively.
When replying to an email, it is important to keep the original message. If the original email contains several questions, it can be frustrating reading all the answers but having nothing to refer to. When responding to several questions, it is a good idea to write your response under each question in a different colour. This will make it easier for the recipient to read.
4. Cleaning up
Make sure to remove the carets (>>>>) and delete the addresses at the top of the email when replying so the recipient does not have to scroll down through all the other recipients of the email first to read the actual content. Also, do not underline words or information as it can be mistaken for a hyperlink.
Your subject line has to match the content of your email and give a warning in the email if you are about to send a large attachment. It can clog your recipient’s inbox and cause other emails to bounce.
Only CC those people who should be on the know-how of things and be careful with the “reply-all” button if your reply is not meant for everyone.
5. Sending GOOD content
Have you ever been frustrated after having sent an email in which you put much time and effort only to receive an email back saying “okay” or “sure”? Take the time to sufficiently acknowledge the sender’s questions and issues. If you do not have time to send a detailed response immediately, an appropriate reply would be “Thank you for the information. Sorry, I’m very busy today. Let’s get together and discuss everything in more detail tomorrow.”
6. Closing your email in the right manner
When closing your email, end in a friendly and positive way using terms like “Best wishes”, “Have a great day!” or “Thanks”. These closings are considered more casual and more appropriate for the people you have frequent contact with.
If your message is more formal, use “Sincerely”, “Kind/Best regards”, “Thank you” or “Many Thanks” followed with your branded signature.
7. Out of office etiquette
If you are out of the office for more than 24 hours and have no or limited access to checking your emails, consider using the ‘auto-reply’ indicating another colleague or telephone number to otherwise get in touch with.
However, do not use the auto-reply button for everything. An example would be sending an auto-reply for every message you have received. Aside from the fact that it is downright annoying receiving these emails, it can clog up the receivers inbox. This can cause other important emails to bounce and not being able to get through at all.
8. Email response time
Your email response time is critical and failure to respond impacts everyone. In general, you should reply as quickly as possible - within 24-48 hours and it should be no longer than 2 days. If you are not able to reply due to doing some information sourcing, acknowledge the email and respond you will get back to him/her as soon as possible.
If you need an immediate response to an email, consider calling the person. But do not call the person right after you have sent the email. If the email is urgent, mention it in the message. If you do not receive a response within 24-48 hours and you are not sure if the recipient received your email, it is OK to call.
Other useful tips
- When cancelling a meeting last minute, do not send out an email to cancel, but call the person or people up to inform them.
- When wanting to contact a specific group using previous messages or threads, make sure to delete the old email if the content you are sending is not related. Create a new subject line when composing the new email and thread.
Email, as a means of daily business communications, is a reflection of your professionalism and leaves a lasting impression. Your email is a reflection of you and your company, so make sure you get your staff trained and do not assume they already know how to write proper emails.
Follow these guidelines as you leave good impressions and build lasting relationships.
Need help to overcome these obstacles? You don’t know how to overcome differences? You need more information or training for your company or as an individual? Please check out my Cross-Cultural and Business English lessons including basic cultural etiquette!