Email Etiquette

“Regrets, I’ve had a few – but then again, too few to mention.”  It’s safe to say that if he really meant those words, Frank Sinatra (or songwriter Paul Anka), never sent many emails.

Today’s digital landscape is littered with the faux pas of millions of computer communicators, more than a few of which have led to personal embarrassment or – in the case of office professionals – much worse.  In fact, few things can blemish your brand more than hastily written, poorly proofread emails.  How often have you hit the “SEND” button on a business message only to immediately wish you could take it back?  Follow some simple rules, and you’ll never have to say, “Oops!” again.

Subject.  Always use a simple, short subject line that is to the point.  Professionals get a lot of emails every day.  You want to make sure they have a reason to read yours.

Body.  Again, get to the point.  As with a good subject heading, your message should be direct, concise and on-topic.  You will gain respect by not forcing unnecessary back stories and sidebars upon your recipients.

Privacy.  Do not assume that your email will be read only by the person you’re sending it to.  Whether by accident or intent, your words can travel far and wide.  It’s best to assume they will.

Reply.  Do not hit “Reply All” unless you truly mean it.  Assume that many recipients couldn’t care less about your thoughts on the discussion at hand.

Mass Emails.  Think twice – or even three times – before putting the address of every recipient in the “To” or “CC” bar.  Doing so discloses to everyone you’re writing everyone else’s email address.  Many would like to keep this information private.

Introductions.  Just as you would when typing a letter on paper, use a courteous and professional introduction.  When communicating for business, a “Dear Sir” will win over more readers than a “Hey, Bob!” every single time.

Tone.  Your emails should reflect the professional you are.  Speak directly, calmly and without humor.  Words can be easily misunderstood – especially if they’re directed at someone with a different cultural background.  And if you’re angry, calm down before writing.

Exclamation Points & All-Caps.  In a word, don’t.  “ALL CAPS” is often interpreted as shouting.  Exclamation points can look unprofessional.  But if you feel that you absolutely, positively have to use one, then use only one.

Sign-Offs.  “See ya!” should be reserved for the note about the gang getting together after work for drinks.  “Sincerely” or “Yours truly” or “Regards” might sound a little stilted, but it will be appreciated.

Proofread.  Do this with every single email message you send.  Have only five minutes to get an email out?  Then reserve at least a minute or two of that time to check your work.  This cannot be emphasized enough.

Signature Block.  A signature block – with your name, title, business name, address, phone number, etc. – is a good way to tell your reader a little about yourself and give her or him an alternate way to contact you.

Address.  Address your emails last.  This may sound counterintuitive; but it can prevent heartburn, should you accidentally hit the “SEND” key before you’re ready to.

As with many lists of tips, the above is mostly common sense.  But in the heat of the moment, when everything has to be done “right now,” common sense is usually the best path to follow.  No regrets needed.