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17 email-etiquette rules every professional should know

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 18/08/2018 Jacquelyn Smith
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US employees spend, on average, about a quarter of the workweek combing through hundreds of emails.

Despite the fact that we're glued to our reply buttons, career coach Barbara Pachter says plenty of professionals still don't know how to use email appropriately.

Because of the sheer volume of messages we're reading and writing, we may be more prone to making embarrassing errors, and those mistakes can have serious consequences.

Pachter outlines the basics of modern email etiquette in her book "The Essentials Of Business Etiquette." We spoke to her, and pulled out the most essential rules you need to know.

Vivian Giang and Rachel Sugar contributed to earlier versions of this article.

1. Include a clear, direct subject line

Examples of a good subject line include 'Meeting date changed,' 'Quick question about your presentation,' or 'Suggestions for the proposal.'

'People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line,' Pachter says. 'Choose one that lets readers know you are addressing their concerns or business issues.'

2. Use a professional email address

If you work for a company, you should use your company email address. But if you use a personal email account -- whether you are self-employed or just like using it occasionally for work-related correspondences -- you should be careful when choosing that address, Pachter says.

You should always have an email address that conveys your name so that the recipient knows exactly who is sending the email. Never use email addresses (perhaps remnants of your grade-school days) that are not appropriate for use in the workplace, such as 'babygirl@...' or 'beerlover@...' -- no matter how much you love a cold brew.

4. Include a signature block

Provide your reader with some information about you, Pachter suggests. 'Generally, this would state your full name, title, the company name, and your contact information, including a phone number. You also can add a little publicity for yourself, but don't go overboard with any sayings or artwork.'

Use the same font, type size, and colour as the rest of the email, she says.

5. Use professional salutations

Don't use laid-back, colloquial expressions like, 'Hey you guys,' 'Yo,' or 'Hi folks.'

'The relaxed nature of our writings should not affect the salutation in an email,' she says. 'Hey is a very informal salutation and generally it should not be used in the workplace. And Yo is not ok either. Use Hi or Hello instead.'

She also advises against shortening anyone's name. Say 'Hi Michael,' unless you're certain he prefers to be called 'Mike.'

6. Use exclamation points sparingly

If you choose to use an exclamation point, use only one to convey excitement, Pachter says.

'People sometimes get carried away and put a number of exclamation points at the end of their sentences. The result can appear too emotional or immature,' she writes. 'Exclamation points should be used sparingly in writing.'

9. Reply to your emails -- even if the email wasn't intended for you

It's difficult to reply to every email message ever sent to you, but you should try to, Pachter says. This includes when the email was accidentally sent to you, especially if the sender is expecting a reply. A reply isn't necessary but serves as good email etiquette, especially if this person works in the same company or industry as you.

Here's an example reply: 'I know you're very busy, but I don't think you meant to send this email to me. And I wanted to let you know so you can send it to the correct person.'

10. Add the email address last

'You don't want to send an email accidentally before you have finished writing and proofing the message,' Pachter says. 'Even when you are replying to a message, it's a good precaution to delete the recipient's address and insert it only when you are sure the message is ready to be sent.'

11. Proofread every message

Your mistakes won't go unnoticed by the recipients of your email. 'And, depending upon the recipient, you may be judged for making them,' Pachter says.

Don't rely on spell-check. Read and reread your email a few times, preferably aloud, before sending it off.

'One supervisor intended to write 'Sorry for the inconvenience,'' Pachter says. 'But he relied on his spell-check and ended up writing 'Sorry for the incontinence.''

12. Double-check that you've selected the correct recipient

Pachter says to pay careful attention when typing a name from your address book on the email's 'To' line. 'It's easy to select the wrong name, which can be embarrassing to you and to the person who receives the email by mistake.'

13. Keep your fonts classic

Purple Comic Sans has a time and a place (maybe?) but for business correspondence, keep your fonts, colours, and sizes classic.

The cardinal rule: Your emails should be easy for other people to read.

'Generally, it is best to use 10- or 12-point type and an easy-to-read font such as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman,' Pachter advises. As for colour, black is the safest choice.

14. Make sure you're spelling the recipients name correctly

'If you offend someone in the salutation, that person may not read any further,' she says.

Be respectful and spell the recipient's name correctly. 'Many people are insulted if their name is misspelled. Check for the correct spelling in the person's signature block. You can also check their email address. Often, people's first and/or last names are in their addresses.'

If you're emailing a potential client, they may assume you pay little attention to detail, or are too busy or distracted to get their name right, and that's not the message you want to send.

16. Keep tabs on your tone

Just as jokes get lost in translation, tone is easy to misconstrue without the context you'd get from vocal cues and facial expressions. Accordingly, it's easy to come off as more abrupt that you might have intended. You meant 'straightforward'; they read 'angry and curt.'

To avoid misunderstandings, Pachter recommends you read your message out loud before hitting send. 'If it sounds harsh to you, it will sound harsh to the reader,' she says.

For best results, avoid using unequivocally negative words ('failure,' 'wrong,' or 'neglected'), and always say 'please' and 'thank you.'

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