When it comes to attire, social cues, or even email, there are general rules everyone should follow. However, it’s important to keep in mind that etiquette recommendations can vary by industry, company, and even generation.
How we define email etiquette
Generally, having proper etiquette is synonymous with being “professional.” When it comes to business communication or just sending emails in general, good email etiquette is about making sure that you provide all email recipients with the information they need.
In this article, when we talk about “proper business email etiquette” or just “email etiquette” in general, we mean the best way to communicate something via email. The tips in this article should be able to guide anyone who wants to sound professional over email for business or education.
Why do we need email etiquette rules?
Email etiquette is important because it helps you communicate effectively. A well-written email message can build stronger relationships and establish yourself as a credible colleague, manager, client, student, teacher, or freelancer.
10 tips for proper business email etiquette
Having email etiquette doesn’t just mean writing a professional email with perfect grammar. As you’ll see in this article, email etiquette also has to do with how, when, why, or to whom you send your email. These ten email etiquette tips can show you how to put a professional email together.
10 tips for proper email etiquette
- Have a professional email address
- Create an email signature
- Write without the recipient's address first
- Use the right tone
- Create short and clear subject lines
- Include links and file attachments
- Have the right email address(es)
- Only use "reply all" when necessary
- Respond at the appropriate time
1: Have a professional email address
Unless you are given an address by your employer, make sure you have an appropriate email address, so recipients know who they are getting an email from. While it’s okay to still use the email you’ve had since 9th grade, just make sure it still reflects who you are now. For example, if you’re a business owner or master’s student, maybe don’t use the email address “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
It's best practice to use either your name or a recognizable nickname—like Cam for Camilla or John for Johnathan. You can use periods, hyphens, or an underscore to separate each word if using just your name isn’t available. However, try to stay away from the numbers in your birth year if you’d like to avoid unnecessary bias about your age.
When creating a marketing email address, ensure the address name is clear to customers. If you’re making an email address for feedback, customer support, or other specific needs, make sure you also make that clear in the address. For example, "email@example.com".
2: Create an email signature
Aside from having a clear email address, one of the best ways to make sure recipients know who’s emailing them is to add a professional signature. To do this, go into your email settings. There should be a way to add one so that any time you send an email it will include your signature automatically.
In your email signature, first put your name, occupation or job title, and pronouns (if desired). After this basic info, you can add whatever helpful information you think is applicable. For example, you could add a link to your company website, LinkedIn profile, personal website, or social media accounts. If you have a work phone number, second email, or other relevant contact information, be sure to include those too. Feel free to add the company name, logo, or tagline also.
If you typically work with people who live in another state or country, maybe think about adding your local time zone so recipients can anticipate your working hours and when you’re likely to respond. Colleagues might also find it useful if you put any upcoming scheduled time off in your sign-off, in case they need to know your availability.
3: Write the email without the recipient's name first
Your first instinct when writing a new email message may be to add the recipient’s address in the "send to" bar. Instead, write out the email first and then insert the recipient’s details. That way if you send it by accident, that person won’t see an unfinished email.
It’s completely acceptable to write short or long emails just as long as it makes sense with the context of what you need to communicate. Make sure that you’re providing all the context and necessary details in the email's body paragraphs.
An email that’s too short could confuse the recipient with a lack of information. Alternatively, if your email is too long, you overwhelm the person with information. If you do need to include a lot of necessary details, try breaking up your email body paragraphs into bullet points or short paragraphs.
4: Use the right tone
It’s generally a good rule to avoid humor and maintain a professional tone if you’re emailing someone you don’t know well. And remember, you don’t get to rely on body language to help you communicate. It could greatly cost your business if clients find your email inappropriate, so if you want to be sarcastic or funny, make sure you know your recipients will understand. Take cultural context and other colleagues' cultural differences into consideration too.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a marketing email and you’re trying to reach a certain demographic, using humor, emojis, or sarcasm can be a great way to connect to your audience. Just make sure that you’re confident that your audience will respond well to that tone.
For more advice on writing marketing emails, check out these tips.
Make sure your email's tone matches you and your intentions Your tone should reflect well on you, the sender. If you’re a lawyer who’s sending a formal email with sensitive information to a client, it’s best to avoid slang, smiley faces, or too many exclamation points. However, if you’re sending the final version of a project to a colleague—one that you both worked very hard on for the last several months—an excited, happy tone with some smileys is probably okay.
Periods ≠ rudeness Younger people, particularly young women, are more likely to send business emails with exclamation points. It’s okay to use them sometimes, but some people tend to overuse exclamation points because they think they’ll otherwise sound angry or presumptuous. On the contrary, using periods is completely acceptable email etiquette; we promise you won’t sound rude, mean, or annoying.
For more on how to write with a proper tone, check out these tips.
5: Create a short and clear subject line
The subject line is the first thing people will see when they open their email and read your message. Make sure that your subject lines are short and have no more than about ten words. Be descriptive, limit the use of punctuation, and make sure to capitalize all proper nouns. If the email contains urgent matters, make sure to mention it in the subject line so the person doesn’t assume your email isn’t a priority.
If you’re writing marketing emails and you want to emphasize a sale or limited offer, also make sure to mention that in your subject lines.
Always double-check for grammatical errors before pressing send, and don’t forget to proofread your subject lines too. There's nothing more annoying than realizing you've addressed an email to the wrong name. Or worse, misspelling your own name in your sign-off.
A tip for making sure you catch spelling mistakes is to proofread the last sentence of your email and read each sentence backwards from there. Another tip is changing the font because your eyes are more likely to notice mistakes when they see text in a different font. Just make sure you change it back to one of the standard fonts afterward.
It's better to be clear and concise in email communication. When you're re-reading your message, it's good to ask yourself if your email is understandable as it covers all your points. If you can say something in one word instead of five
7: Include links and file attachments
If your email mentions a file attachment, make sure to actually include it! If you have to attach large files, you may need to compress them first. You can also send large files via Google Drive, OneDrive, WeTransfer, or Dropbox.
For marketing emails that are intended to drive the reader elsewhere—such as a blog post, landing page, or contact form—be sure that your link works. Whether you hyperlink your URL or paste it fully in the email body is up to you. Feel free to send your email to a colleague first if you want to be extra sure that your links work for someone else.
8: Have the right email address(es)
Right above the subject line is where you will add the email addresses. Make sure you are sending your email to the right person and that you’re cc-ing or bcc-ing the right people too. If you’re writing marketing emails, make sure you have the correct permissions to send emails to each person on your list.
9: Only use "reply all" when necessary
It’s typical email etiquette to use “reply all” only when necessary. Not every person on your recipient list will need to know your response to the original sender. Unless you have relevant information that everyone needs to know, make sure you only reply to the specific person or people in the email chain.
10: Respond at the appropriate time
We all have busy schedules, so it’s understandable that not everyone can meet each other’s appropriate response window time. However, here are some general guidelines to follow, as each response window depends on whom you're emailing.
- Direct colleagues or teammates: Respond within the work day or within 12 hours.
- Other colleagues or teammates: Respond within 24 hours.
- Direct clients: Respond within the work day or within 12 hours.
- External contacts: Unless marked as urgent, respond within a few days or at least by the end of the week.
If you receive business emails with important or sensitive information, you should definitely let the sender know you received their initial email. Even if you don’t have a response or update right away, you should still reply to say you have seen their email, and that you will respond with an answer or update soon.
As mentioned in the email signature section, if you live in a different time zone, make sure that you let each recipient know what times they should expect to hear from you. That way, they won’t become frustrated or confused if you are taking longer to respond.
Why following email etiquette rules = good communication
In summary, having good email etiquette is about making sure you provide the recipient with the information they need and that you are communicating efficiently with that person. Writing professional emails and maintaining conventional email etiquette can help you build and maintain stronger relationships and establish yourself as a reliable person to colleagues, managers, teachers, and clients.
When you use proper email etiquette, you’re not just writing a good message, you’re communicating in the best way possible. Here’s what each of our tips mean for proper communication.
- Using a professional email: You’re a serious professional with a comprehensible address that people will recognize at first glance.
- Having an email signature: You are providing extra information about yourself to a recipient, which will help them understand who you are especially if this is your first email to them.
- Writing without the recipient’s address first: You’re being cautious about writing your message correctly the first time and that it doesn’t send on accident before it’s ready.
- Using the right tone: You’re making sure that your email’s tone matches the content and your intentions. You’re also taking into consideration the recipient’s background and what they may or may not find funny (if you use humor).
- Creating a short and clear subject line: You’re making sure the recipient will know exactly what your email’s about in ten words or less.
- Proofreading: You’re double-checking your grammar so you not only send the right information, but also make sure it’s written cohesively.
- Including links and attachments: You’re organized by ensuring the recipient has all files they need without having to send another email.
- Having the right email address: You’re checking to make sure your email goes to the right people.
- Only using reply all: You’re not flooding other people’s inboxes with information that only needs to go to one person.
- Responding at the appropriate time: You’re communicating to the recipient that you’re being thoughtful in your conversation with them. You’re telling them that they can trust you as a reliable coworker, client, or colleague.
Emailing does require some finesse
Sending emails may seem like a mundane activity, but they do require skill. Since you can’t rely on verbal tone or facial expressions, someone could misinterpret any part of your email— the message contents, the length, or the time you respond—even if you have the best intentions.
If you write your email properly to the best of your ability—from the subject line to your sign off— and follow each of these email etiquette rules, you’ll be known as that reliable person who communicates effectively over email.