Effective E-mail Etiquette

Don't send the wrong message.

E-mail has become an integral part of the workplace, but unless used properly, you might not be sending your intended message. Learn how to write an e-mail that is both effective and professional.



For many, sending e-mail has become such a central part of daily routine that it is difficult to think about the unspoken rules that guide e-mail protocol. For instance, the “To,” “Cc,” and “Bcc” functions have very specific purposes. Use “Cc,” or carbon copy, when you need to include a person who needs to remain in the loop on a project, but doesn’t necessarily need to respond to that particular e-mail. Use “Bcc,” or blind carbon copy, to include multiple recipients while keeping personal e-mail addresses private. Use the “Reply All” response sparingly, as very rarely do all recipients need to be included on a conversation. Likewise, congratulatory messages, such as “Great job!” or “Happy holidays!” should not be sent to a group. Save e-mail usage for information that is important to share or requires feedback.



Most importantly, remember that your work e-mail is a business tool. Your content should be professional and courteous. Include a brief subject that lets the recipient know what your e-mail is about. Often, the subject determines whether or not a person will even open your message. Do not leave the subject blank. Similarly, state your topic in the first sentence of the e-mail. Your note should be brief and let the recipient know what you need from them.


If you have more to communicate, consider making a phone call or talking in person instead. Avoid using abbreviations and emoticons in e-mails; what is appropriate in a casual text message may not be suitable for the business environment. Respond to e-mails in a timely manner, even if you are just acknowledging that you have received the note. It is appropriate to say, “Thank you for your request; I will have your answers on Tuesday.”



Although e-mail doesn’t have to be as formal as a printed letter, you should still pay attention to details like spelling and punctuation. Use complete sentences with appropriate capitalization. Avoid writing in all capital or all lowercase letters, and use exclamation points sparingly. As you compose your e-mail, consider how the person receiving it will perceive it.



Use a standard font that is easy to read, and can be found on most computers. Save the use of colors, bold, and italic functions for when they would enhance what you are trying to communicate. Avoid backgrounds on your messages, as it can slow down e-mail and make text more difficult to read. Set up a signature block to be included in all e-mails. This should include your name, title, and contact information.


Applying these guidelines will help your e-mails communicate your message more clearly and intelligently.