Email Etiquette: What You Should Know

Sarah Dysthe

An email inbox can be like a New York City street: daunting, frenzied and filled with people too busy doing what they’re doing to be concerned with what’s going on around them or whom they just bumped into. In other words, B2B emails are often, albeit unintentionally, rude. The noble pursuit of good B2B email manners is about more than contributing to a warm business relationship. Good email etiquette makes practical sense, too. It distinguishes an email’s sender as credible and easy to do business with, two virtues that lead to new opportunities from coworkers and clients alike. Below are habits every professional should purge from his or her repertoire like elbows from a dinner table.

Using Abbreviations and Incomplete Sentences

A professional always knows to say a resounding “yes” rather than a lackluster “yea” in spoken conversation. Likewise, a proper email should convey professionalism and confidence. Even when sending from your mobile device, never use “u” rather than “you.” Likewise, a sentence should always be a complete thought with both a subject and verb. You don’t have to be the next Shakespeare to construct a well-worded email, just make sure you spend the time and effort necessary to not come across like a disinterested teenager who can’t tell the difference between a workplace email and a text message to a lifelong friend.

Indiscriminately Using “Reply All”

“Reply All” should be used sparingly. How many times have you been copied on a long email thread that has nothing to do with you? It’s frustrating, and a true professional recognizes this and does his or her part not to be the source of frustration for others. If only a few of the original recipients need to read the reply to an email, a considerate professional will take the time to populate the recipient field accordingly. It helps to imagine the message as a paper memo for which distribution requires copying and walking to each recipient’s desk. If you wouldn’t take the time to walk to their desk to drop it off, you may not want to include them on the reply.

Using a Vague Subject Line

The beastly nature of an executive’s inbox means that emails need to be quickly sorted to avoid drowning in the digital fluff. Sending an email with a vague subject line is like gifting a Chia Pet; recipients don’t know where to put it. A professional should always craft a short, plain-spoken subject line that communicates both content and importance. Not to mention the fact that if your message can be construed as an advertisement, not having a clear subject line could put you in violation of CAN-SPAM laws.

Writing a Long-Winded Discourse

Email etiquette states that an email should be only long enough to clearly and politely communicate the sender’s intention. Paragraphs should be limited to only one to four sentences. Requests for action should be stated at the beginning of paragraphs, rather than the end. The true professional is always mindful of others’ time and does not take up any more than is absolutely necessary to provide the necessary information.

Although email is virtual, it should never be impersonal. The good manners a career-minded professional practices in interpersonal relationships can be easily transferred to email communications.