7 Business Email Do's and Don'ts

Yes, email etiquette still matters. Learn the do’s and don’ts of sending business emails in 2024.

The average worker sends and receives about 40 emails every day. For a typical full-time worker, that amounts to a whopping 10,400 emails every year.

This means that knowing how to write a professional email (and, equally importantly, how not to) is a vital skill for employment.

Writing professionally makes you look professional, but that’s not the only reason it matters. It can also help avoid misunderstandings, foster positive relationships with coworkers and supervisors, and even enhance career opportunities by presenting yourself as reliable and considerate in your digital communication.

Below are seven guidelines to avoid the most common mistakes people make when sending business emails.

1. Do: Ensure every email has a clear subject line

When it comes to writing professional emails, leaving the subject line blank is a definite no-no. Not only does this increase the chances of your message being marked as spam, but it also makes it challenging for recipients to locate your email later if they want to respond. Likewise, avoid using vague subject lines like “hey” or “question,” as well as going to the other extreme of detailing your entire message in the subject line.

Instead, describe what your email is about in a few words, such as “update on [project name]” or “question about [topic]”. Taking a few minutes to craft a concise but descriptive subject line is considerate of other people’s time and increases the chances of a response. This also helps the recipient to find the email later in search.

2. Do: Mind your capitalization

Writing in all caps is the digital equivalent of shouting at someone. It may come across as rude, aggressive, or unprofessional. Using proper capitalization gives your email a more polite and professional tone.

If you need to get an important point across but you’re looking for an alternative to all caps, consider using bold or italic formatting. Both options can help call attention to specific words or phrases without the negative connotations associated with all caps. (Just remember to use these sparingly!)

3. Do: Use proper punctuation

We’re not saying you need to be a grammar geek. However, it’s important to pay attention to basic punctuation like using periods and commas.

Poor punctuation can lead to misunderstandings and confusion (as in the classic example: “Let’s eat, grandma!” versus “Let’s eat grandma”). What’s more, neglecting punctuation can make you seem careless or unprofessional — which hurts your chances of the recipient understanding what you need, or even moving up in your career. Using proper punctuation helps you get your ideas across in a clear and coherent way.

4. Do: Tailor your tone appropriately

You might think that being casual in your emails makes you seem friendly, but it can actually have the opposite effect in a professional setting.

Think of it this way: You wouldn’t speak to your manager or supervisor the same way you would your best friend. The same is true when you’re composing a professional email. Before you hit send, consider your audience and adjust your tone accordingly.

Along the same lines, be careful with sarcasm in emails, as it can be easily misinterpreted as snark.

5. Do: Exercise discretion with “Reply” and “Reply All”

If you’ve ever been the recipient of an unnecessary “Reply All” email chain, then you know how annoying and confusing it can be. At best, hitting “Reply All” when it’s not necessary clogs people’s inboxes with irrelevant messages. At worst, it can expose sensitive or personal information to a larger audience than intended.

In some cases, the reverse problem occurs, where individuals inadvertently exclude others by hitting “Reply” instead of “Reply All”. This oversight can result in repeated emails with the same questions, as recipients may not be aware that the topic has already been addressed. Before selecting “Reply” or “Reply All,” carefully consider who needs to be included in the response to ensure efficient communication.

6. Do: Respond in a timely fashion

Raise your hand if you’ve ever sent a work email and not gotten a response. Super frustrating, right?

Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever ignored or forgotten to respond to a work email. We’re all guilty of missing an email from time to time, but regularly taking a long time to respond may give the impression that you are unreliable or neglecting your duties.

In a professional setting, responding to emails within 24-48 hours is generally considered good practice. If you can’t respond right away, it’s polite to acknowledge the message and provide an estimated time for a more detailed response. (Just be sure to set a reminder to follow up!)

7. Do: Consider the best communication method

Before sending an email or picking up the phone, think about which communication method makes the most sense for the issue at hand. Email is ideal for sharing updates, providing project details, or requesting feedback that doesn’t require an immediate response. Additionally, email allows recipients to respond at their convenience, making it suitable for communicating with people in different time zones or whose schedules are already full.

Reserve phone calls or meetings for situations that require immediate feedback or nuanced discussion. Whenever possible, send an email first with an agenda to determine if a call or meeting is necessary. This approach shows you respect peoples’ time and ensures they are prepared for a productive discussion.

Keep in mind that different people may have different communication preferences based on their personality, work style, and the nature of the conversation. Some people may prefer phone calls, while others may favor email. Understanding and respecting these preferences can contribute to more effective communication and better professional relationships.

Final thoughts

Beyond projecting a professional image, paying attention to email etiquette can help avoid misunderstandings, foster positive relationships, and even enhance your career opportunities. By being mindful of the guidelines we’ve outlined above and adopting considerate digital practices, you can contribute to a more efficient, respectful, and successful workplace.

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