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Small Business Tips

10 Business Email Etiquette Tips

Nigel Graber
Email Etiquette Electronic Message Rules 3d Rendering

You’ve probably sent the odd email in your time. In fact, according to Radicati, around 124.5 billion business emails whizz across the internet every day. Given that volume of virtual pings, email etiquette rules in the workplace often fall by the wayside.

That sloppiness can annoy your colleagues and clients. At worst, it could wreck your career. So check out our top tips for email etiquette, avoid those embarrassing slip-ups and build genuine rapport with partners, clients and staff members.

What is email etiquette?

Email etiquette comprises the rules of behaviour you should follow when writing or replying to email messages. It’s vital to follow email etiquette in the business world because we have no control over who sees our words once we’ve fired them off. That’s entirely in the hands of the recipient.

Poor email etiquette reflects poorly on you. And your mistakes will be recorded in inboxes forever. On the other hand, proper email etiquette reflects well on you, improves what people think of you and invites a good response.

Once you’ve established the basic email etiquette rules, following them isn’t too tricky.

Why is email etiquette important to a company?

Email etiquette is important to businesses for three key reasons:

  • Professionalism: using the right language puts across a professional image
  • Efficiency: succinct emails are more likely to be read and responded to than badly worded emails
  • Liability: staff awareness of email risks will protect the business from expensive liability

What are the ten most important email rules?

1. Discuss Public Matters Only

Back in 2013, a couple resigned their jobs when their saucy banter went viral on Twitter. Oil-firm receptionist Melanie Anderson from Aberdeen and her partner Eric Knisz exchanged graphic emails about their love life.

When Melanie decided to alert her colleagues to the arrival of the sandwich van, she chose to do so on top of the email string to Eric. The email intended initially for her 89 colleagues, quickly circulated the world and became a viral hit on Twitter, thanks to the hashtag #sandwichvan.

The embarrassing tale is an object lesson in discussing only public matters on email. No matter who you’re writing to, ask yourself if the subject of the email is public or private. If it’s something you’d happily post on the company intranet, then, by all means, hit send.

In DIY, handymen use the expression ‘measure twice, cut once’. It’s a failsafe method of getting their measurements right and not making a mistake it would be costly to correct. Applied to emails, the message might be to check your content twice for appropriateness.

2. Be clear with your subject line

Be clear about your subject line. Your recipient must know precisely what the message is about. If your subject is clear enough, they’ll be able to filter its importance and decide how much urgency is warranted.

In other words, get to the point. If you want your colleagues to come to a meeting at 3 pm that day, put it in the subject line. If you’re sending a sales forecast spreadsheet, make that the subject of your email.

3. Make your greeting professional

‘Yo Bro’ isn’t an appropriate greeting for a business email. In general, you should keep things pretty formal, using ‘Hello’ rather than ‘Hey.’ A simple ‘Hi’ followed by the person’s name (not nickname) is also acceptable.

4. Avoid reply all (usually)

On Monday, 14 November 2016, the NHS came to a halt. The culprit was a tsunami of ‘reply-all’ email responses. Employees and service providers couldn’t get access to their email or even get into their computers.

The trouble began with a misfired test email from an NHS contractor in Croydon sent to every NHS employee. For the record, there are 1.2 million of them. Reply-all responses kicked off right away, along with ‘replies to all’ asking to be taken off the distribution list.

In total, the NHS system generated around 186 million emails in one work day. NHS Digital said 840,000 accounts were affected.

Let’s face it. It’s seriously annoying to be included in a group email when the messages don’t concern you in any way. Use your discretion and use ‘reply all’ only when the memo is of genuine interest to every recipient.

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5. Proofread

Proofread your emails. Your life doesn’t depend upon it, but your professionalism does. It’s easy not to give spelling and grammar the attention they deserve when writing emails. After all, they’re not formal letters with letterheads, are they?

But proper grammar still matters. It makes your employer look professional, and it makes you look educated. If English isn’t your strong suit, run your emails through a decent grammar checker such as Grammarly. If it’s deadly important, get a professional writer or editor to take a look.

6. Get the tone right

Littering your emails with emojis is generally frowned upon. They should be reserved for social media. But that makes it very tough to hit upon the right tone when writing your business emails.

In a study by the American Psychological Association, 80 percent of people believed their recipients would be able to tell the difference between sarcastic and serious in emails. But the truth was more like 56 percent.

So it’s vitally important to consider carefully the words you use and their interpretation. Here are a few email etiquette rules around tone:

  • Avoid negative words. You’ll come across as anxious and irritated.

Examples: Failure, delay, crisis

  • Avoid sarcasm. Chances are, they won’t get it. Or you’ll seem bitter.

Example: “I’ll get Claire to check it over at 9 am tomorrow. As if she’ll be in the office by then.”

  • Remove adjectives. Stay composed and professional. Modifiers can make you seem like an emotional basket case.

Examples: very, highly, seriously, totally

  • Be guided by your recipient. Follow your recipient’s lead. If they get straight to the point, you should, too. If they start with a friendly observation, such as ‘Hope your south coast weather is better than our nasty drizzle’, then feel to free to respond in kind. Listening to your recipient is a good way of avoiding offence.
  • If in doubt, phone. When people can hear your voice, it leaves less room for ambiguity.

7. Know your email fields

Do you know your CC from your BCC? Options here are few, but it’s amazing how many people don’t know what’s what. Here’s our summary.

To: Easy, this one. Just insert the email address of the main recipient/s.

CC: Want to include someone else just for information? Use the CC (carbon copy). They won’t feel an obligation to get back to you.

BCC: Blind carbon copying (BCC) someone means they’ll receive the email, but no one else knows they got it. For example, if you send an email to Jim Smith and BCC Bob Jones, Jim won’t know Bob can read it.

Why would you do such a thing?

You use BCC to hide an email address from other people. You might be emailing colleagues about a meeting, but if you hide some emails with BCC, you won’t be revealing their addresses without permission.

BCC can also allow you to remove people from inbox threads as a courtesy. Let’s imagine Jenny, a colleague, introduces you to someone over email. It would be polite to BCC Jenny in your reply and say something like, ‘Moving Jenny to BCC to protect her inbox.’ When a message gets forwarded, it goes without the BCC recipients.

Also, spam programs and viruses can trawl address books for email addresses. The BCC field is a good anti-spam feature because it makes it less likely recipients will get anything nasty from someone else’s infected computer.

8. Use the out-of-office feature

Off on your hols or just out of the office for a few days? An Out of Office (OOO) reply will let everyone know you can’t reply to their message until your return date.

Like all things connected with email, there are dos and don’ts that apply:

  • DO say when you’ll be available again.
  • DO say who they can contact for urgent matters.
  • DO put OOO in the subject line.
  • DON’T use an OOO autoresponder for just one day.
  • DON’T forget to tell your colleague you’ve made them an emergency contact.
  • DON’T tell everyone how you’re going turtle-spotting in Seychelles. Keep things short and professional.

9. Attachments

Just because you can attach stuff to your emails doesn’t mean you should. If you have to send some colossal file, point out in your email that you’ve attached something, or it might get missed.

If the file is the size of Belgium, it’s polite to use a file-sharing tool, or you’ll end up blocking people’s inboxes for the day. And when you add a new recipient to an email chain, make sure you reattach the files, or they won’t be visible to them.

10. Learn how to sign off

Yes, there’s email etiquette around signing off as well. How you finish your emails can say a lot about you. So go carefully.

  • Regards/Best regards

Standard stuff. Can’t go wrong. But never downgrade a recipient from Best regards to Regards.

  • Best wishes

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