Business email etiquette 101: Are you still making these mistakes?

By Robert Half on 25 February 2015

There are certain business etiquette rules that every professional should master. 

A poll conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute showed that office workers spend an average of two and a half hours a day writing and responding to emails.

But does practice really make perfect?

Not where emails are concerned, it seems.

Most of us would be able to recall having been included in an email’s “cc”, even when it comes to matters that don’t concern us, or dealt with the frustration of email “radio silence”.

Here are some tips for following business email etiquette when corresponding with coworkers, bosses or vendors.

Be kind

Avoid using email to say no, argue, criticise or deliver bad news. Pick up the phone or deliver the information face to face. Don't hide behind emails!

Make every email fight for its right to be sent. The less you send, the more likely your messages will be read. Don’t copy others unless they really need to read it.

Be considerate, not cryptic

The same applies for both office etiquette and email etiquette. Don’t expect others to decipher what you mean by reviewing an entire email thread. Just because you are on the go doesn’t mean you should expect others to piece together what’s being requested.

Use only one account for work

Keep work-related emails coming and going from your work account only. Having a single address makes it easy for people to find your messages. And it will prevent business messages from getting tangled with your personal email – and perhaps neglected as a result.  

Consider your email account when job hunting

It may go without saying, but don’t use your current work email to send resumes to prospective employers. Also, avoid using overly personal email handles when job hunting, such as “partyanimal@” Not everyone will appreciate your sense of humour and “too much information” can be a turn-off.

Respond in a timely manner

Try to respond to all messages within 24 hours, but don’t say you’ll reply with a more detailed response at a later date unless you really intend to follow through. If you’re in consecutive meetings or away from the office, put an out-of-office message on so people aren’t left wondering when you’ll get back to them.

Be crystal clear

In your subject line (and you should always have one!), explain what you want: Do you need someone to review or approve something, or is the message simply an FYI? In the message itself, get to the point and use bullets, which are easier to scan than large blocks of text.  

Don’t get too fancy

Avoid bright colours, odd fonts or extra-long signature lines. Some people find these distracting or just plain annoying. Include your personal or business links to social and professional networking sites when appropriate.

Watch the size

An email with a mega-attachment might never reach its recipient, and if it does, it could overload the inbox. Consider zipping the file or utilising a service like YouSendIt that allows you to transmit large files over the Internet (be sure to check your company’s IT policy first).

Don’t cry wolf

Is it really urgent or are you simply feeling impatient? Resist the temptation to break email etiquette by flagging your messages with a big red exclamation point when they’re really not that time sensitive. The result of doing so constantly? People simply will stop paying attention.

Reply with care

When responding to an email with multiple recipients, think twice about whether you really need to reply to all, and double-check your response before doing so. Bad “Reply to All” threads run rampant throughout organisations.

Think before you send

Always review the distribution list when sending a sensitive message. Many a message has erroneously been sent to the wrong person with disastrous consequences. With email being the main form of business communication, it is important to consider all of the above when conversing with clients and colleagues. To avoid making any mistakes, quickly re-read your email before sending.

Stay on top of your email etiquette

No matter how busy you are, vet through your emails before sending them out. It shouldn’t take you more than a minute or two. Following proper business email etiquette reflects professionalism. Last but not least, be kind in all your correspondences and you’ll definitely be appreciated for the gesture.

This originally appeared as "Email Etiquette 101" on the Robert Half Australia Blog.

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